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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

April 30, 1993

Air Date: April 30, 1993


Goldman Environmental Prize Goes to Chinese Dissident / Betsy Bayha

Betsy Bayha of member station KQED reports on this years winners of the Goldman Environmental prizes. Among the recipients of what's been called the "Nobel Prize for the Environment" are a Chinese dissident who was sent to jail for opposing plans to build a giant dam on the Yangtze river. (04:58)

Green Investor Group Lands First Big Business / Jan Nunley

Living on Earth's Jan Nunley profiles the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economics, or CERES. The group of "green investors" is the author of an influential set of principles for corporate environmental responsibility. Sun Oil Company has recently become the first Fortune 500 firm to endorse the principles. (07:35)

The E Factor

Host Steve Curwood talks with Joel Makower, author of the new book The E Factor. The book analyses the trend toward "green" business practices among American companies. (05:13)

Listener Comments

Steve opens the mail. (03:10)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Betsy Bayha, Jan Nunley
GUESTS: Joel Makower

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Some call it the Nobel Prize for environmental activism. This year's Goldman Environmental Prize winners include China's Dai Jing, whose book opposing the Three Gorges Dam landed her in jail.

DAI JING: As a writer, as a journalist, it is very hard to convince people against the lure of money and development. It's almost easier to have people stand up against dictatorship than to commerce.

CURWOOD: Also, the Sun Oil company is the first major US Corporation to endorse a major set of principles for corporate environmental responsibility. Sun's top executive says it's part of a growing trend.

CAMPBELL: I fundamentally believe that annual environmental reporting will someday be as common as annual financial reporting for major corporations.

CURWOOD: This week on Living On Earth, coming up right after the news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins with this week's environmental news.

Logging in U.S. national forests will fall sharply starting next year. That's according to the chief of the US Forest Service, who told a House panel that harvests will be cut in 120 national forests in order to protect threatened wildlife. The New York Times reports the Forest Service plan would ultimately end logging completely in 59 national forests.

On the seventh anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, a dramatic increase is being reported in the rate of childhood thyroid cancer. The World Health Organization says more than 120 cases of the cancer have been recorded over the past two years in Belarus, which suffered the worst radiation damage from the accident, as compared to fewer than 10 cases in the two years just after the accident.. Boris Yeltsin's top environmental advisor says it would be far cheaper and faster to replace the remaining Chernobyl-style reactors with new power plants than to upgrade them to Western safety standards. In an interview with Living on Earth, Dr. Alexei Yablokov says upgrading the 16 RBMK reactors in the former East Bloc could take 15 years and cost 60 billion dollars. Replacing them with gas turbine plants, he says, would take five years and cost only six billion dollars. Yablokov says the Russian government's decision to keep its RBMK's open was a mistake.

YABLOKOV: One type of nuclear reactor, like RBMK-type reactor, Chernobyl-type reactor, have to be shut immediately because it creates enormous ecological risk, unacceptable ecological risk.

MULLINS: Living on Earth will broadcast the interview with Dr. Yablokov next week. Meanwhile, a letter from former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov reveals that the Soviet government knew of potential problems at Chernobyl seven years before the April 1986 accident. Andropov was the head of the KGB when he warned that the Chernobyl reactors were unsafe and could lead to "accidents and unfortunate mishaps". It's not clear whether the letter refers to the same problems that caused the accident.

Hoping to beat back a series of lawsuits, Exxon says Alaska's Prince William Sound is nearly recovered from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Ed Houla has the details.

HOULA: Scientists working with Exxon presented two dozen reports at a symposium in Atlanta, each buttressing the oil company's claim that Alaska's Prince William Sound appears to have suffered no lasting effect of the supertanker's spill. Exxon petrochemical engineer Dr. Hans Jan says the action of weather and other forces of nature has helped repair the Sound quickly.

JAN: The general thinking is that the spill has been disastrous in the long term, and it'll be the long term -120 years is the largest number I've heard - until everything is recovered. That is just not right.

HOULA: But Exxon's findings are being challenged by Federal scientists. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says Exxon has misinterpreted government data. The ultimate findings could affect pending civil lawsuits against the oil company. For Living on Earth, this is Ed Houla in Atlanta.

MULLINS: This is Living on Earth.

Facing a sharp drop in shark populations, the Federal Government has put new limits on fishing for 39 major species. The first-ever shark regulations include restrictions on the commercial fishing of blues, makos, and threshers, as well as recreational limits on both deep-sea and coastal sharks.

A Federal appeals court in Denver has ruled that states should have more control over cleanup of pollution caused by Federal agencies. The court agreed with officials from Colorado and 22 other states that leaving the cleanup of such sites to the agencies that polluted them amounts to a conflict of interest. Scott Schlegel has more.

SCHLEGEL: The appeals court ruled that the Colorado Health Department does have jurisdiction in toxic waste cleanup at Superfund sites - in particular, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal outside Denver. Cleaning up arsenal nerve gas and pesticide waste in the ground poses many potential environmental and health hazards. And Colorado Attorney General Gail Norden says states are in the best position to oversee cleanup at federal facilities.

NORDEN: We think it's the right policy for the Federal Government to acknowledge that those people living around a site have a say in the way the cleanup takes place and in the way that hazardous wastes are handled.

SCHLEGEL: The decision may affect toxic waste cleanup sites throughout the US. However, the US Justice Department is considering an appeal to keep Superfund cleanups under greater Federal control. For Living on Earth, I'm Scott Schlegel.

MULLINS: Eighty percent of former top officials in the EPA's Superfund program have reportedly taken jobs with companies they once regulated. A new study by the Center for Public Integrity charges that close relations between the EPA and industry helps businesses work the Superfund program to their advantage. Eric Greenberg is the report's author.

GREENBERG: In one case, someone who helped the enforcement rules and then went to work for General Motors, helping them get around Superfund regulations that he helped write.

MULLINS: The report also charges the EPA has failed to collect nearly four billion dollars in cleanup costs from industry.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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Goldman Environmental Prize Goes to Chinese Dissident

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

If you were a grassroots environmental activist, how would you like to get $60,000 - no strings attached - as a thank-you for your work? That's exactly what the Goldman Environmental prize has meant for more than two dozen people over the last four years. The Goldman prize is the world's largest award honoring eco-activism. Recently in San Francisco, this year's winners were announced. Betsy Bayha of member station KQED has our story.

BAYHA: The Goldman Environmental Prize is often referred to as the Nobel Prize for the environment. That's not a moniker that sponsors Richard and Rhoda Goldman came up with themselves, but they say they're honored by the comparison. The $60,000 annual prizes are awarded with no strings attached to six grass-roots environmental activists around the globe, one from each of the inhabited continents. In its four years, the Goldman Prize has won praise from numerous world leaders, including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Cuba's Fidel Castro. But Richard Goldman says international recognition is just one goal of awarding the prize.

GOLDMAN: Actually, we use the prize as a means of reaching an end which is much broader than just recognition of the people who win the prize. And if the prize winning is a catalyst to a better understanding and support of the environment for future generations, that is really what we're shooting for.

BAYHA: The Goldman Prize is notable for honoring activists who mix their environmental work with a healthy dose of politics. It's not unusual for prize winners to have spent time in jail, had their writing censored, or their homes raided by police. This year's crop of winners is no exception. Australian John Sinclair's 22-year campaign to protect the world's largest sand island off the coast of Queensland embroiled him in a costly legal battle with the conservative state government. Juan Meyer Maldonado of Colombia faced death threats as a result of his efforts to preserve the world's highest coastal mountain, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. And Chinese journalist Dai Jing was thrown in jail after writing a book opposing plans for the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River. Dai Jing says she was surprised to win an honor for environmental heroism.

DAI JING: I don't consider myself an environmental hero. I'm a journalist, fighting for limited freedom of expression in my country.

BAYHA: Dai Jing's book, Yangtze, Yangtze, initiated China's first public environmental debate in 1988. The compilation of essays dealt with the threat the Three Gorges Dam megaproject poses to an area of natural beauty and environmental riches that Dai Jing describes as China's Grand Canyon. The book, which she spent her own money to publish, was eventually banned, and Dai Jing lost her job as a journalist at Beijing's daily newspaper. But her efforts are widely credited for influencing the Chinese government's decision to postpone the Three Gorges Dam project for at least five years. Dai Jing says China's environmental movement is young, and is overshadowed by the country's push for development and industrialization.

DAI JING: As a writer, as a journalist, it's very hard to convince people against the lure of money and development. It's almost easier to have people stand against a dictatorship than to commerce.

BAYHA: Dai Jing plans to use her Goldman award to establish China's first independent environmental organization. She says the $60,000 prize will keep the organization, called Environmental Watch, going for three years. And she says she isn't bothered by the keen interest she expects from governmental officials.

DAI JING: I'm already used to government pressure. Working in environmental protection may prove to be easier than other pressures.

BAYHA: Dai Jing hopes her efforts will continue to influence the Chinese government on key environmental issues, a sentiment echoed by Richard Goldman, who says many of the prize winners over the years have won significant policy battles as a result of their work.

GOLDMAN: There's so many things that can come from this. For example, we have also written to heads of state and we've had endorsements received from 81 countries. The work of the grass-roots heroes can be multiplied into national policies.

BAYHA: The other winners of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize are Svet Zeblin of Russia, one of the founders of Russia's grass-roots environmental movement; Joann Tall, a Lakota Sioux from South Dakota who's fought to protect native lands from mining and commercial exploitation; and Garth Owen-Smith and Margaret Jacobsen of Namibia, for their efforts to stop rhino and elephant poaching. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.

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Green Investor Group Lands First Big Business

CURWOOD: A few years ago a major poll found that most Americans blamed corporations for most of the country's environmental problems. But polls in recent years show the tendency to blame pollution on companies falling - sharply. One reason for this may be that people are taking more responsibility for their own actions. But it may also be that little by little, corporations are changing the way they do business. Living on Earth's Jan Nunley has the story of one group that's helping to foster that change. . . by forging common ground between environmentalists and corporations in the area of environmental ethics.

NUNLEY: Not all the investors of the Eighties were in it for the money - not entirely, anyway. While the Masters of Wall Street were wheeling and dealing, a small group of investors who called themselves "socially concerned" were looking for places to put their money where it would do more than just grow. They came together in 1988, to form a sort of think-tank on environmentally responsible investing, calling themselves the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies - CERES - the name of the Roman goddess of grain. Joan Bavaria is president of the Boston-based socially-responsible investing firm Franklin Research and Development . . . and a founder of CERES.

BAVARIA: We were needing to provide service to our clients who were very concerned that their investments be environmentally positive. We didn't have a lot of information coming from the environmental community, from corporations themselves, or possible alternative investments targeted directly into the environment.

NUNLEY: To help make this kind of information more available, CERES members came up with a set of ten principles for operating environmentally responsible businesses. At first, they were called the Valdez Principles, in memory of the 1989 Exxon oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

BAVARIA: The first six principles which some have called 'apple pie and motherhood' principles, are basic and fundamental to sound environmental management.

NUNLEY: Companies would promise to conserve wilderness and natural resources, cut down on and dispose of waste safely, save energy, and make safe products, safely.

BAVARIA: The last four principles are the public accountability loop, the 9th, for instance, asks the companies or institution to commit on a very high level to environmental responsibility.

NUNLEY: . . . and these were stickier. In case of accidents, businesses would commit to correcting the problems they caused, and informing the public. They would put an environmentalist on their board of directors, and complete an annual environmental audit authored by CERES.

The first to sign were investors and small, "clean" businesses - "green-chip" companies, like herbal cosmetics manufacturer Aveda Corporation of Minneapolis, and Ben and Jerry's All-Natural Ice Cream in Vermont . . . even a hair salon in Georgia. But the Fortune 500 giants weren't responding. Was it something they'd said?

BAVARIA: Some corporate counsels felt the principles presented legal barriers, for which they could not recommend the principles to their board. We had no intention to providing any kind of legal problems to the companies, so we tried to amend the principles to accommodate that.

NUNLEY: That meant changing some key words in the principles, including the very title, "Valdez" - a moniker one oil executive compared to asking a shipping company to sign the Titanic Principles. The name was changed, to the CERES Principles. CERES investors bought stock in giant companies, and began lobbying them to sign the principles . . . companies such as DuPont, IBM, General Electric . . and Sun Oil Company.

(Sound of service station bell)

NUNLEY: Sun Oil, which sells gasoline on the East Coast under the names "Sunoco" and "Atlantic", is the 12th largest U.S. oil company - and in February it became the first Fortune 500 firm to endorse the principles. At first, Sun's stockholders turned down the CERES shareholder resolution by a more than 15-to-one margin. But Robert Campbell, president and CEO of Sun, was willing to talk with CERES, and he did - for almost a year.

CAMPBELL: We eventually concluded that we wouldn't be able to endorse some of the specific words because they were so generally stated that ultimately you could actually conclude that we'd be endorsing a principle that says we're getting out of business. The breakthrough came when it was suggested that what we might do is to draft a principle that mirrored what they were proposing but more adapted to our business in a practical sense.

NUNLEY: The new "Sun Principles" are almost identical to the CERES Principles. They commit the company to reduce waste and toxic emissions, use water and non-renewable resources more efficiently, conserve energy, and eliminate sanctions against environmental whistleblowers. They've also promised to be more accountable to the public and to shareholders on environmental concerns. Campbell says CEO's of other companies have questioned whether such measures as the annual environmental audit, to which Sun Oil has committed, go too far. Robert Campbell.

CAMPBELL: I fundamentally believe that annual environmental reporting will someday be as common as annual financial reporting for major corporations. And I think that, more than anything else, has been the stumbling block. To me it's just the wave of the future.

NUNLEY: Other companies have joined the CERES endorsers since Sun Oil, including cruelty-free cosmetics purveyor The Body Shop and, most recently, Timberland, the footwear and apparel manufacturer. Some companies have started to implement environmental reforms, and some have issued their own environmental codes. But most corporations may be reluctant to link up with an environmental group such as CERES . . . at least until they see a significant, and sustained, uptick in the economy. Dallas-based investment analyst David Johnson.

JOHNSON: You know, the real worry is, is that you have a commitment to spend, you know, a million dollars or something for some new scrubber, and then you look around and the very existence of the company is in jeopardy. And in tough times, you know, unfortunately, the environment is one of those things that gives.

NUNLEY: Johnson agrees with Robert Campbell of Sun Oil that it's the "public accountability" provisions of the CERES principles - things like opening up environmental practices to public scrutiny - that are the hardest for many corporate boards to swallow.

JOHNSON: Boards used to just sort of have people fly in, pick up honorariums, have a nice dinner, coupla drinks and they're off. Now boards are accountable, and they get sued.

NUNLEY: Yet Johnson thinks companies will come around - eventually - since, he says, more environmentally-friendly and -efficient businesses make more money.

There's other resistance to the CERES principles - some of it from environmentalists, who fear that making friends with corporate America - especially petrochemical, waste management and other "dirty" industries - will somehow "greenwash" these companies' shortcomings. But Joan Bavaria of CERES says these can be some of the most important companies with which to work.

BAVARIA: Some of those companies that have been historically thought of as the devil themselves have reasons to change. They've either assumed new management or they've been under so much public pressure that they're anxious to turn over a new leaf. Whatever their internal reasons, we need to be responsive to them and to take the opportunity to work with them to craft new policies.

NUNLEY: In twenty years, Joan Bavaria says, she'd like to see the CERES Principles so deeply a part of the bottom line that they disappear - having done the work of changing corporate culture, and the people in it, so that business as usual includes the business of considering the environment with every decision. For Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley.

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The E Factor

CURWOOD: Joel Makower is an author and journalist who's written "green guides" for consumers, but his latest project has turned to the perspective of business. Makower's new book, called The E Factor, chronicles how big and little corporations are factoring environmental considerations into their businesses. He also offers some advice for corporate managers. I asked him - What's motivating business to - quote - go green?

MAKOWER: Money. It's very much a bottom line thing. If you look at all the many, many things that are involved with going green, they basically boil down to two very simple ideas: minimizing waste and maximizing resource use. When you do those two things, it doesn't really matter what business you're in or where you're located or if you're big or small, you can't help but be more competitive and get a bigger return on your investment.

CURWOOD: Now, what's your favorite success story? Tell us a company that's done great by going green.

MAKOWER: I think my favorite story has to do with Herman Miller. Herman Miller is a furniture manufacturer based in Zealand, Michigan, and they work with a local tannery to produce some of the leather for some of their high-end chairs. In the process of tanning leather, you end up scraping a bunch of organic matter off the back of the hides, which this tannery had been disposing of it, at some cost to the tannery. Herman Miller decided to take this organic matter off their tannery's hands, mix it with sawdust from their own woodshop, to create a very high-nutrient fertilizer. They then went and bought a plot of land on which they are spreading this fertilizer to grow corn to feed to the cows that end up at the tannery! There's this great closed-loop system where everyone comes out as winners - except, of course, the cows.

CURWOOD: Now, what's the most important advice you can offer business executives that want to change?

MAKOWER: Listen to your employees. I think employees really know a lot about what's going on, where the waste is. I think the first step is just to figure out what you're doing, where the inputs are and the outputs are, what you're buying and throwing away. Companies that do take the time to look up and find that, we're buying tremendous amounts of paper for our photocopier. Where's it going, what's it being used for, how much of it is never being used? And when they start to take a look at even that one simple part of their operation, never mind the toxic chemicals that might go into a manufacturing process, they often can find there are tremendous opportunities for efficiency.

CURWOOD: What about companies that by nature are pretty hostile to the environment -- they make dangerous chemicals, they have nuclear products, they are drilling for oil, and the attendant mess that that has -- how can they go green?

MAKOWER: It's tough for them. Basically, the only way for them to be environmentally responsible is to go out of business, and I'm not going to advocate that, and not many people are. So it's really a matter of incremental improvements, and there are plenty to be had. I've spoken to oil companies and to auto companies, and I say if you really want to create a green image, if you really want to do something in advertising, spend your money teaching consumers how to drive their cars, how to maintain them, how to operate them. We have to put things in perspective here. For all that a single employee can amass over the course of a day or a week for the purposes of recycling, and that's a good thing to do, but the environmental benefits that might be gained from that are blown out of the water by the simple act of that employee getting into a poorly-tuned, gas-guzzling car with underinflated tires and a cold engine and driving three or five or ten miles to and from work. I think auto companies and employers in general should make sure we're dealing with the substantive things as well as the symbolic ones.

CURWOOD: How much has this change by business being driven by consumers, how much by business itself, do you think?

MAKOWER: Consumers really haven't changed how they're shopping. For all their talk about being green consumers, by the time they get through the checkout stand, their purchases look pretty much like they always have. But it's the perception of consumers, and particularly the perceptions of kids, changing their ways, that I think is driving some companies to pay attention to this stuff.


MAKOWER: Well, you know, kids influence their parents, of course. But kids also are the future employees and the future consumers. And certainly when McDonald's thought that there might be a generation of kids growing up looking at their company, the Golden Arches, as eco-villains, they said we have to do something here. And I think it's an interesting story, for a couple of reasons. So much attention was paid to this switch from clamshells to paper wraps, and that was significant, and it helped. But 80 percent of the waste savings at McDonald's were things behind the counter, things that we consumers never see. And I think that's important for consumers to understand, that for all of the importance on buying the right kinds of products, by being green consumers, that's just the beginning. We've got to move companies in their operations as well as in the final products that they put out. Those are really where the tremendous opportunities are for environmental savings and for corporate savings, too.

CURWOOD: Well, listen, I want to thank you for joining us. Joel Makower is author of The E Factor, and he also wrote The Green Consumer and edits the newsletters The Green Business Letter and The Green Consumer Letter. Thanks for joining us.

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Listener Comments

CURWOOD: And now. . . listener comments.

Our recent feature on the emerging field of "insect cuisine" provoked this response from a listener to WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. He writes, "I was amazed and annoyed that you would include a segment on your show concerning insect and worm eating. Although this is something that other cultures do. . . and that our ancestors most likely relied upon. . . I feel that it is unnecessary today. " To "take food away from the bats and the birds would be just one more pressure that we put on the environment."

Our story about the possible health effects of electromagnetic fields struck a chord with many listeners. . . including these two who called our listener line.

#1: Hello, my name is Daniel Sabsey [sic]. I'm president of the East Bay Skeptics Society in Oakland, California. What I was concerned about in your presentation was that you used some imagery about the atoms in your brain and molecules dancing to the 60-cycle current, and you were talking about exposure levels from two to seven milligauss and I'm very concerned that you leave the impression that these are high levels of magnetic fields, whereas compared to the 400 to 500 milligauss of the earth's magnetic fields that pervades everybody's body all the time, this is a very minor ripple.

#2: This is Dr. Clint Case [sic] calling from Reno, Nevada, and I would like to comment that an objective review of literature so far indicates that we may be in a place, relative to electromagnetic radiation, that we have been for some years as regards tobacco smoke. Tobacco companies have yet to admit that tobacco smoking can cause cancer. Yet the epidemiologic studies of electromagnetic radiation really make a pretty clear case for danger of low-levels of electromagnetic fields being at least promoters of childhood leukemia and other cancers.

CURWOOD: And we received this enthusiastic endorsement from Lester Embree of Delray Beach, Florida: "Dear Folks," Mr. Embree writes. . . "Just like Cokie Roberts is still a second stringer on Brinkley's Sunday news show, you and the environment are peripheral on NPR." Mr. Embree continues - "Go for prime time! Agitate to become the "Fresh Air" of the mornings! Pull out all the stops! Show them this card. Gaia told me to tell you this." Well, thanks for the show of support, Mr. Embree!

If you have any comments or criticisms, drop us a line - our address is Living on Earth. . . Box 639. . . Cambridge, Massachusetts. . . 02238. That's Living on Earth. . . Box 639. . . Cambridge, Mass. . . 02238. Or give us a ring on our listener comment line. . . at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454.

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Living On Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. . . the coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe and Reyna Lounsbury. Our engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help this week from Jenifer Loeb and Peter Lydotes. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living On Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

If you'd like a transcript or tape of this program, send ten dollars to Living On Earth. . . Box 639, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Or call 617-868-7454.

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