Sustainability

What's Bringing President Obama To Walmart?

It’s not the everyday low prices. No, not even professional family photos with Bo and Sunny. It’s about businesses making smart decisions about energy.

Today, the President will visit Mountain View, California’s Walmart to announce big news for solar power and energy efficiency. Walmart is already a commercial leader in solar installations, but is committing to double the number of panels on its store roofs in the next six years, harnessing 7 million GWh of clean energy by 2020. But not just Walmart thinks solar power is great idea. Today the President is announcing 300 private and sector commitments to advance solar deployment, representing 850 MW of electricity, enough to power 130,000 homes. The industry is growing at breakneck speed, and President Obama is directing his Administration to ensure the American workforce can keep up the momentum.

Since Obama took office, the U.S. had just 1.2 GW of solar capacity; today that number stands at a whopping 13 GW. That’s enough to power 2 million American homes. Not to mention, that’s 2 million fewer homes we have to power to polluting coal or natural gas.  The industry boasted more than 140,000 jobs in 2013, a 20% increase since the previous year. So what’s next for solar?

Clean Energy 101: The President will direct the Department of Energy to invest in community colleges in 49 states to prepare 50,000 students to enter the solar industry by 2020. Solar energy- whether its photovoltaic or thermal- is not only complex, but is becoming increasingly specialized as new technologies hit the market. From the 1,700 acre concentrated solar plant (CSP) in California to a 10’ x 10’ pair of photovoltaic panels on a rooftop in New Jersey, the growth of solar in the coming years will demand a diverse, skilled workforce. By developing the Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network, more Americans will have the exciting opportunity to be a part of the clean energy economy.

Sustainable Housing: The DoE and Department of Housing and Urban Development will partner to advance education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to bolster energy literacy and employment in low-income communities and public housing projects across the country.

Clarity and Consistency in the Tax Code: The DOE will be releasing an updated and revised Guide to Federal Financing for Clean Energy. This excellent tool assists Americans to identify energy efficiency and renewable financing programs in Federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Treasury and Environmental Protection Agency.

NRDC looks forward to being a part of the solar industry’s rapid growth. Last fall, we launched our Solar Schools program, an innovative way for communities from North Carolina to California to crowdfund solar projects on their local schools. To learn more, read NRDC Director of Renewable Policy Nathanael Greene’s blog on this exciting project. Our affiliate organization, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), is tracking the growth in the clean energy economy, noting where companies are hiring new workers to help manufacture solar panels and install PV systems on roofs. To see where solar is hiring in your state, please visit www.cleanenergyworksforus.org. Last year, E2 tracked more than 21,600 jobs announcements in solar generation alone!

But wait! Solar is just one of the President's exciting announcements today. Mr. Obama is also setting exciting new energy efficiency standards, that together with other efficiency standards that his administration has issued, will save a whopping 2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution through 2030. To get the inside scoop from an expert, check out my colleague Kit Kennedy's blog on how new efficiency standards will save our economy billions in the coming decade.

Our 100% clean energy future is on the horizon, let’s join our President and support its continued progress.

This post originally appeared on: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dmurray/whats_bringing_president_obama.html

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U.S. Manufacturing

A Simple Sponge, and My Second Chance

I’ll never forget the day in 2003 when everything went red. I was in my 30s, watching television with a friend in my living room when it happened. Three surgeries and several weeks later, I was declared legally blind.

While it happened quickly, it wasn’t completely unexpected. I had been diagnosed with diabetes back in Jamaica and couldn't afford the proper medication, which led to my vision loss. So I found myself trying to navigate life without the benefit of eyesight and, soon, without my husband, who left me. It was just my daughter and me. Years later, I moved to New York City in search of opportunity, but questioned whether I'd made the right decision after going unemployed for more than three years. That changed when I found National Industries for the Blind.

Pauline Doling at Sewing Machine

Statistics show more than 70% of the more than 4 million legally blind adults in the U.S. are not employed. As the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind, NIB is working to change those statistics, and my story is one example. Eight years ago, I discovered New York City Industries for the Blind, which later became Alphapointe, one of NIB’s associated nonprofit agencies. I began manufacturing SKILCRAFT® Speedy Scrubber sponges at Alphapointe’s facility in Brooklyn. And I’ve been counting my blessings ever since.

All of a sudden, I had a steady income. I wasn’t wondering how I was going to pay my bills and support my daughter. I take great pride in operating my sewing machine on the manufacturing line because I know the military and government customers who use our product depend on us for quality. In May, we were excited when our sponges began hitting the shelves of select Walmart stores throughout the Northeast as part of the retailer’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing. I’m part of a team with more than 100 employees, each one legally blind, just like me.

Man at Sewing Machine

NIB and Alphapointe believed in me, and that’s the second chance I was looking for. I’m confident again and I have a support system around me. I’ve made friends for a lifetime – friends I go out to dinner with and hang out with on the weekends. I even met the love of my life, Ronnie McNeil, here. We were married earlier this month, which kind of completes my dream come true.

For more than 76 years, NIB has created jobs for people who are blind through the sale of thousands of SKILCRAFT products. The Speedy Scrubber sponges are manufactured by people who are blind working at Alphapointe – one of 95 nonprofit agencies associated with NIB – in its Brooklyn facility. 

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Sustainability

The Makeup of Makeup and More: Improving Ingredient Transparency

Imagine you’re standing in a store aisle looking for a new brand of lotion that won’t irritate your baby’s skin. You find yourself surveying at least a dozen different lotion labels trying to understand and compare product ingredients. The process is frustrating, slow, and confusing – what are some of these things even used for?

You are not alone. A lack of product ingredient information is a very common problem. Fortunately, the situation is improving. In the past few years, more and more companies have taken action to make product information more transparent to consumers, including the sharing of ingredients online. Walmart is one of these companies.  

As outlined in its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, Walmart has started an effort to list the ingredients contained within its private label consumable products – personal care and household products that you use up, such as aftershave, baby lotions, cleaners, or pet shampoo – on walmart.com. Walmart’s policy also asks national brand suppliers, like Procter and Gamble, Revlon and Pro-Sense, to follow this lead and include product ingredient information on their own websites.

Sharing lists of ingredients on Walmart’s website is a positive development for customers. Greater online access to this information makes it easier to find out what’s in products and to compare ingredients across products so that customers can ultimately make more informed purchasing decisions. For an example, consider cleaning products.  If you’ve ever tried to figure out what’s inside a cleaning product while shopping, you know it can be difficult – for the most part, ingredients are not required to be disclosed on the packaging of cleaning products.

Today, you can find on Walmart.com a list of ingredients for most private label products covered by the policy.  See for example, “ingredients” listed under “about this item” for a bottle of Equate body wash. According to Walmart’s implementation guide, product ingredients are to be listed in descending order of concentration using a standard naming convention called INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). This standard is already in use by many product manufacturers and helps create consistency that is designed to allow for easier identification and comparison of ingredients across products. Walmart’s policy is being implemented in steps, so not all of Walmart’s product listings disclose ingredients as outlined in the policy and implementation guide.  Walmart continues to build and improve upon this important first step.  

We’re encouraged to see that product ingredient transparency is becoming more standard practice in the marketplace. We’re especially pleased with companies like Clorox and Seventh Generation that have taken leadership steps on ingredient disclosure by providing ingredient information in multiple languages and identifying an ingredient’s function, or purpose, in a product. This is good news for the growing number of consumers interested in making informed decisions about the products we buy and use every day.

But the benefits of ingredient disclosure may well extend far beyond our everyday shopping trips. Businesses that commit to consumers on ingredient disclosure provide valuable information that can ultimately help drive safer chemicals into the marketplace.

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a senior scientist, and Alissa Sasso is a research consultant. Both contributors work for the Environmental Defense Fund.    

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Innovation

In the Baby Department, a Mom’s Work is Never Done

Have you ever heard of tooth wipes? If you’ve never brought home a baby, then probably not – unless you’ve shopped for a gift for a first-time mom and noticed such a lesser-known item on her gift registry.

New parents tend to over-prepare because they’re nervous to get everything right. I know this firsthand because two years ago, I had my first son. And I thought I needed every possible item to take care of him – including tooth wipes.

So many of us are familiar with this feeling, and for me, it’s a life experience that translates well to my day job overseeing baby merchandise at Walmart. My team takes care of people in the happiest, but also the most stressful time of their lives. We’re constantly asking ourselves, how can we make that easier? One key – but coincidental – way is that many of the associates on the baby team have intuition from parenting babies and young children themselves.

Diana Marshall with Son

These perspectives have helped us make simple, but important changes to our assortment – like ensuring our customers can find popular brands like Britax and Plum Organics, and launching Urbini exclusively at Walmart. (It also applies to items like tooth wipes. When I needed them two years ago, Walmart didn’t carry them. Now we do, and they are even assembled in the U.S.!) Our parenting experience has also given us ideas to take to our suppliers that address important concerns, like a car seat with technology that alerts you when your child is still in the back seat if the ignition is switched off.

Talking to our customers, we see our personal insights proven right in many different scenarios. First-time moms like me want everything perfect and brand-name, while second-time moms tend to focus on just getting through the day. Second-time moms also concentrate more on functionality, which applies to their shopping experience, too. They’ve reduced the places they shop from a handful to only a couple, meaning convenience is important. That’s one reason we’ve expanded our assortment not just in-store but also online, and we’ve recently updated our baby registry to be easily accessible with the Walmart mobile app. I love now being able to shop for friends using my phone whether I’m in the store or in transit somewhere.

Smart Phone showing Gift and Baby Registry App

Research has shown my team that the needs of moms globally are really the same: They all want the very best for their children. I love that we’re able to provide that not just from business experience, but from personal experience, too. We’re able to learn about products and what works well, and then influence that for other parents. Just a few months ago, I took home all the diapers Walmart carries to try on my son and then gave feedback to our suppliers on quality. It helps to be so close to the category to be able to improve our assortment and customer experience.

It’s an intriguing circle, how many of my team members’ jobs influence our parenting and how being parents influences our jobs. Whether it’s updating our mobile registry, adding distinct items like tooth wipes, or ensuring we carry great private-label options like the Parent’s Choice training pants we just launched in partnership with Dreamworks, we’re working hard to make the hardest job in the world – parenting – a little easier.

You can read more about Walmart’s expanded assortment of baby products and services here.    

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Community

Once Hungry, Lisa’s Family is Now Hungry to Help

I first met Lisa as she walked into the YMCA of Greater Rochester with her youngest child still in a stroller, and her preschooler toddling along. For Lisa, planning three meals for her family every day was something that she could not afford as a single mother of three.

Fresh fruits and vegetables – a staple in a healthy diet for growing kids – were an expensive luxury. Toward the end of every month, she was left worried and afraid that she wouldn’t be able to put any food on the table. 

Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not unique. In Monroe County, New York, there are over 100,000 people living with food insecurity. In addition, only one in six low-income children nationwide who relied on free and reduced school lunches participated in a summer nutrition program last year, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Lisa and her girls started coming to the YMCA of Greater Rochester in 2013, where we were able to offer a solution to her family. We provide local children free access to nutritious meals during the day including breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks. For moms like Lisa, it’s a tremendous relief as they no longer have to worry about where their kids’ next meals are coming from.

Lisa with children at Rochester YMCA
Our facility is one of many YMCAs in 2,300 communities nationwide benefitting from a $5.3 million national grant from the Walmart Foundation that enabled the expansion of yearlong food programs. This grant is part of a group of grants made by the Walmart Foundation, totaling $15.5 million, to support free meal and nutrition programs. These grants mean so much to so many families this time of year, as children are out of school and without access to school meals and the daily routines they count on.

Today, things are improving for Lisa and her family. She graduated from college with honors this May and already has a job as a pharmacy tech at a local hospital. She credits our YMCA program with giving her the support and peace of mind that she needed while finishing her degree. Lisa now is also able to give back. Many times, I’ve seen Lisa and her daughters bring clothing to our facility in the hopes that other families will benefit.

Lisa and her girls still come to the YMCA each morning, and I talk to her about her plans for her daughters, who she says will grow up to change the world. I bet that dream will come true.    

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