Environment and Ecology


I just watched this TED Talk given by Dan Phillips of the Phoenix Commotion in Huntsville, TX. Not only does Dan Phillips seem like a pretty awesome and funny dude, he makes a (common sense) call for our getting back to who we really are – in design – but also in our concepts re: transportation, how we work, and the way we choose to live our lives. I couldn’t agree more. A thoroughly enjoyable 18 minutes. Thanks, Dan!

Green industry, corporate social responsibility, environmental impact assessments, and corporate governance are terms gaining popularity and common understanding in the global marketplace. As we continue to gain awareness about the social and environmental impacts of the corporations we rely on, demands for higher standards also rise. It is no longer just environmentalists and affected communities calling for such changes, but the everyday consumer interested in reducing his or her own ecological imprint that are also requiring improved (environmental and social) corporate practices in exchange for their consumer loyalty.

One such example is an increase in awareness about socially responsible investing and the role that each of us can play in holding corporations to higher environmental and social practices, through the power of our own pockets. However, in a recent class on socially responsible investing, only one out of about 30 students who claimed to currently hold financial investments indicated that their investments had been geared towards socially responsible companies.

As we begin to ask corporations difficult questions about their willingness to make social and environmentally responsible decisions that may affect their bottom line, we must also ask ourselves, how far are we willing to go in our own lives to ensure that we contribute to a more environmental and socially responsible world?

Below is an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune with tips for how you can better align your investments with your moral or cultural values.

Lacing investing with social responsibility

BY JUDITH SEID, NOVEMBER 27, 2010

As a public service to residents, the Financial Planning Association of San Diego is answering financial questions for readers of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Today’s question — on socially responsible investing — is answered by Judith Seid, CFP, at Blue Summit Wealth Management in La Mesa.

Q: My mother, who smoked for some time, recently lost a long battle with lung cancer. A few months after, my husband pointed out to me that one of our largest mutual-fund investments own tobacco stocks. Given our family experiences, and the messages that we want to send to our children, how can we better align my investments with my values?

A: You are not alone in wanting to align your investment goals with your own moral and ethical values — a good percentage of the American population is seeking ways to do just that. In fact recent studies show that one out of every $8 are invested in some sort of socially responsible investing, or SRI strategy. There are a number of ways that you can research and invest in companies, industries or investment products that hold themselves to their own set of socially responsible standards.

Here are some ways you can get started:

Take stock of your current portfolio: Many people have no idea what securities they actually own inside their mutual funds, 401k’s, IRA accounts, etc. So the first thing you can do is find out what stocks and bonds are held inside your portfolio There are a few ways you can do this on your own:

• Go online using the ticker symbols for each fund you own and look at the list of underlying holdings.

• Contact the fund company and ask for a list of holdings in the portfolio.

• Read the annual report which will list all holdings at the time of the report, and/or visitcalvert.com to see if it includes your fund in it’s “Know What You Own” interactive tool, which runs the funds’ stocks holding through an SRI screening criteria.

Research the companies in your portfolio:

• Visit its website. Most companies now have a corporate sustainability officer, a shareholder relations department and/or a portion of their website devoted to what the company is doing regarding environmental and social responsibility and corporate governance.

• Read the annual shareholder report. Oftentimes, you can find out information on CEO compensation, community relations, environmental stewardship and company philosophy regarding a variety of financial and nonfinancial issues.

• Subscribe to new services, such ascsrwire.com, that report on corporate social responsibility, or CSR issues.

• Read publications. Keep you eyes and ears open in the newspapers and magazines for articles pertaining to the companies you own. This way you can be engaged with what your money is supporting.

Find out the criteria your fund uses: Find out if your mutual funds or money managers use any socially responsible investing criteria to screen companies on issues such as environmental impact, human rights, diversity, tobacco, weapons, etc. This will be detailed in the mutual fund prospectus. You can also call and ask.

Determine what issues are important to you: Consider what types of companies you would prefer to be invested in and what types of companies you want to make sure you are not invested in. Are there any issues in addition to tobacco that are important to you? Then you can start to tailor your portfolio to fit your individual concerns.

Consult an SRI professional: Nationwide, there are a host of advisers and investment professionals who seek out socially responsible funds and other investment vehicles for their clients. If you already work with a financial adviser, ask him/her about your current holdings and how they align with your values. If you are seeking an adviser in the SRI space, you can find one at the Social Investment Forum website, socialinvest.org, which lists advisers and planners by state, or the “Green Pages” for the nonprofit national advocacy group Green America, at greenamerica.org.

Google Creative Commons By: djipibi

The Canadian government recently opened an office of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in order to help their mining and extractive industries achieve their CSR responsibilities. Canadian mining companies have come under considerable scrutiny lately. One report, which received much attention in the global media, labeled Canadian firms among the worst in the world for their negative environmental impact and poor community relations.

As European governments continue to divest in Canadian mining firms, some argue the Canadian government ought to have stricter regulations in place to prevent negative social and environmental impacts. Historical evidence supports claims of mismanagement and shows a pattern of neglecting environmental and social impact. Activists and leaders from some of the communities where Canadian mining firms are conducting business have complained about the effects of mining on their health and contamination of the surrounding natural resources and environment, including local water supplies. Those representing the industry argue that NGO reports on firm activities are biased and exaggerate the negative impacts of their activities.

We do not have sufficient information to determine whether NGO reports on the Canadian mining industry are indeed exaggerated. However, a combination of the Canadian mining industry’s zeal to mine areas in developing countries of potential great wealth, the desire by developing nations to foster foreign direct investment in their countries, and current international and domestic laws and regulations are not sufficient to mitigate the vast negative environmental and social impacts that pervade the extractive industries.

"Sea of Trees" Mondulkiri, Cambodia

Traveling through Mondulkiri province in the northern highlands of Cambodia earlier this month, I found myself on the top of a hillside, taking in deep breaths of crisp fresh air, and enjoying the peaceful view onto the “sea of trees”. But somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking about the terrible stories I’ve heard about deforestation in Cambodia and couldn’t help wondering if this was an anomaly, or how long these trees would be there?

Cambodia is ranked the 3rd worst country for deforestation rates in the world.  I’ve heard people in Phnom Penh say, where you would once find vast forests in the northern regions of the country, there are now long stretches of green plains, hills, and farmland.

Cropland in Mondulkiri

The causes of deforestation have evolved with the changing political and economic climate in Cambodia, with timber sales funding the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent wars, in addition to local needs for additional cropland and daily supplies of firewood for cooking.  According to the World Wildlife Organization, “the Lower Mekong Dry Forests once blanketed north-eastern Thailand, southern Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam but a majority has been cleared for farming.”

More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s population lives in the countryside and depends on subsistence farming. “[Today] the main cause of the loss of forest is the increase in the population” said Deputy Governor Leng Vuth in a 2010 UNDP report, “we now have 70,000 residents compared to 10,000 – a seven-fold increase in a 10-year period.”

Our tourist guide's home

While visiting Mondulkiri, I asked a tour guide familiar with the region whether he kew if the forests were being protected or not.  He said there are now vast stretches of land where it is prohibited for people to cut down certain species of trees. He pointed to a checkpoint as we passed one alongside the road and said, “that’s where police stop cars and trucks to make sure they do not have any of the illegal [kinds of] lumber in their cargo.” “And if they do?” I asked. “If they do find that expensive kind of [prohibited] tree, you will have to pay,” he said, uttering expletives about government corruption, he continued, “so you still can cut down the illegal kinds [of lumber] but you will have to pay [the police].”

According to a recent article in the Phnom Penh Post, illegal logging continues despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to make clear he would no longer tolerate military involvement in the facilitation of illegal logging. His announcement of a crackdown on all illegal logging has been largely ignored as a lack of enforcement, local official’s involvement in it, their implicit impunity, and a back-log of legal cases that would hold individuals accountable for illegal logging, all seem to contribute to a continuation of the status quo. It is clear that the current laws alone are not enough to halt natural resource destruction in the Cambodia’s forests.

International organizations including the WWF are working in the Mondulkiri and neighboring northeastern provinces where most of the wildlife crimes take place to help enforce the environmental protection in the region.  One of the guides  told us that teams from these international organizations spend weeks camped out in protected areas sleeping in hammocks deep in the forest in order to investigate suspected violations of the regulations.  As is often the case with enforcing national laws at the local level, the central government lacks presence and sometimes access to the region, and so international organizations work to fill the gap. When I asked what role the local government plays in protecting the forests he said, “the local government… we do not know. We do not know their plan.”

Cambodia to sign cooperation deal with Iran on oil

By: Reuters, August 6, 2010

Officials from Cambodia are to travel to Iran next week and the two countries will sign agreements covering cooperation in the oil sector, the foreign minister of the Southeast Asian state said on Friday.

‘Trafficked’ woman returns home

By: Phnom Penh Post, August 6, 2010

AN 18-year-old ethnic Tampuon woman from Ratanakkiri province returned home last week after neighbours allegedly took her to the capital for job training without her family’s permission. However, the woman, Leith Dauth, said yesterday that she had volunteered to go to Phnom Penh, and only decided to return to Ratanakkiri after learning that her parents disapproved of her plan to go work in Malaysia.

Photo by: Janos Kis

City police seize motorbikes

By: Tang Khyhay and Cameron Wells in Phnom Penh Post, August 3, 2010

TRAFFIC police in the capital have resumed seizing the motorbikes of helmetless drivers and those who lack side mirrors, despite the fact that the Land Traffic Law does not list vehicle confiscation as a possible punishment for such offences.

Cambodia reports 88 lightning deaths

By: TMC, August 5, 2010

Cambodian government said Thursday that 88 people, mostly in rural areas — have died of lightning strikes. Keo Vy, communication officer of National Committee of Disaster Management said that by the end of July, there were 88 people have died in lightning strikes. However, he said, the figure is still less than that in the same period last year as 110 died of lightning incidents.

Forestry, fisheries crimes lost in red tape: minister

By: Khouth Sophakchakrya in Phnom Penh Post, August 3, 2010

AGRICULTURE Minister Chan Sarun has accused courts of dragging their feet on forestry, agriculture and fisheries crimes, claiming 70 percent nationwide have not been to trial. In remarks delivered to Forestry Administration workers in Phnom Penh, a copy of which was obtained yesterday, Chan Sarun attributed the backlog to “a lack of cooperation”.

Jailed journalist reports graft

By: Chhay Channyda in Phnom Penh Post, August 3, 2010

A JAILED journalist whose Appeal Court hearing is scheduled for later this month said yesterday that he had been asked to pay US$1,000 before court officials would tell him the exact date.

Cambodia’s Struggle With Globalization

By:  Hal Hill, Jayant Menon & Chan Sopha in The Jakarta Globe, August 2, 2010

The charming riverside capital of Phnom Penh, home to about 1.5 million inhabitants, has seen a lot in its turbulent history. But arguably nothing is on the scale of its first skyscraper, the 42-floor Gold Tower now nearing completion, not to mention the university and bank complexes mushrooming throughout this ancient city.

Dam projects threaten giants of the Mekong: Conservationists

By: Ian MacKinnon, The Daily Telegraph, July 28, 2010

The survival of some of the world’s largest freshwater fish, including a giant catfish, is threatened by a series of hydroelectric dams planned for the Mekong River, a leading environmental group has warned. The construction of a particular dam in northern Laos would disrupt the migration of four of the world’s 10 largest freshwater species to crucial spawning grounds, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said.

Ask Cambodian Workers: What Good Has ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Done?

By: Jeff Ballinger, In These Times, July 26, 2010

Tens of thousands of workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh have protested numerous times over the last ten weeks, due to expected national minimum wage adjustments (which are behind schedule); their wages are never raised through the dignified means of collective bargaining. Look back to 1998 when a prominent FLA member (Patagonia’s Kevin Sweeney) wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “We Can Work Up To a Living Wage.” So, what’s happened over the past dozen years?

From the Killing Fields, on a Mission of Truth

By: Stephen Holden, New York Times, July 29, 2010

“Enemies of the People” is another disquieting testament to the fact that ordinary individuals under extreme pressure will carry out the most monstrous crimes. If they hadn’t followed the orders of superiors, they say, they themselves would have been killed. One farmer, a Buddhist who believes in reincarnation, expresses his tormented certainty that it will be many lifetimes before he returns in human form.

CNN Hero Aki Ra Disarms Land Mines In Cambodia He Placed Decades Earlier

By: Huffington Post, July 30, 2010

Aki Ra, leader of the nonprofit Cambodian Self Help Demining team, works to make his country more safe by clearing land mines on a daily basis. He estimates that he and his team have cleared more than 50,000 land mines — some of which he planted himself.

Cocktails with Khmer Rouge killers

By: Angus MacSwan, Reuters, July 30, 2010

The sentencing of Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav this week and the forthcoming trial of former leader Khieu Samphan by a United Nations-backed court has brought renewed attention to their murderous rule of Cambodia in the 1970s — and a certain amount of satisfaction in the “international community” for its role in seeing justice done.

There are so many things going on in Cambodia outside the narrow scope of my daily life, weekend escapades and area of work.

For those interested in some perspective on current events, ongoing social and political issues, and articles of human interest in Cambodia, here’s the first weekly news roundup!

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

60,000 sign land-dispute petition

By: Cheang Sokha and Chhay Channyda in Phnom Penh Post, July 14, 2010

Around 60,000 people have thumbprinted a letter calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene and resolve a rash of land disputes that have put their homes, farms and livelihoods at risk, community representatives said.

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010061439788/National-news/60000-sign-land-dispute-petition.html

Oum Sok began working as a cyclo driver when he was 18 Photo by: R. Carmichael

Iconic Cyclo Disappearing From Phnom Penh’s Streets

By: Robert Carmichael in Voice of America, July 14, 2010

The cyclo has been a distinctive feature of Phnom Penh’s streets for 70 years, stretching back to the days when Cambodia was a French colony. But this form of transport has begun to fade away.

http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/lifestyle/Iconic-Cyclo-Disappearing-From-Phnom-Penhs-Streets-96299519.html

Photo by Irwin Loy

30 years after Khmer Rouge, killing fields, Cambodia grows new generation of art conservators

By: Irwin Loy in The Christian Science Monitor, June 12, 2010

The Khmer Rouge caused the deaths – by killing, starvation, and disease – of an estimated 2 million Cambodians, including an entire generation of art conservators. With the killing fields in the history books, skilled professionals are now reemerging

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2010/0612/30-years-after-Khmer-Rouge-killing-fields-Cambodia-grows-new-generation-of-art-conservators

Photo by Lianne Milton

He flips, spins, turns his life around

By: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2010

Deported from the U.S., a former Long Beach gang member makes a name break dancing in Cambodia and becomes a role model.

Article: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-cambodia-breakdancer-20100611,0,5987931.story?page=1&track=rss

Photos: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-cambodia-breakdancer-pictures,0,3611837.photogallery

Cambodian Factories Seek Eco-Friendly Power Alternatives

By: Simon Marks, New York Times, May 27, 2010

There are signs that Cambodia’s garment factories, after a decade of efforts to improve labor standards, are now starting to concern themselves with environmental issues, too.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/28/business/energy-environment/28iht-rbogwood.html