Saturday, July 31, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 25: Sustainability and Competitive Retailing in Switzerland

Click for image credit.
This is the 25th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

Today's post is on Chapter 25, Contributing to Competitiveness in Retailing by Engaging in Sustainability:  The Case of Migros, by Thomas Rudolph, Kristina Kleinlercher, Marc Linzmajer, and Cornelia Diethelm. The chapter reviews how the Swiss retailer, Migros, found a competitive niche by broadly embracing sustainability in their products and operations. The chapter begins with a review of how business organizations often view sustainability. As the authors note, "...many Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) treat sustainability initiatives detached from business objectives." However, some companies have found ways to use sustainability in order to create a competitive edge. The rest of the chapter focuses specifically on one such company--Migros.

Migros is a complex company. Originating in the early part of the 20th century as a food retail store, it now encompasses a range of retail operations--including food. In 2015, an independent rating company, Oekom Research, ranked Migros as the most sustainable retailer in the world. They are in a competitive market, with giants like Aldi and Lidl offering tremendous deals on products throughout Europe. However, Migros decided that while those companies were going in the direction of providing cheap products, Migros would instead focus on high-quality and sustainably produced products. They developed a series of new labelled "brands" such as Migros Bio and TerraSuisse to identify products that had particular sustainable traits. They also, through a loyalty card, educated consumers about the percentage of products they purchased has sustainable traits.

The authors of this chapter note that the foundational start of Migros set them on the sustainability path. Ideas around sustainability and equity have always been part of the mindset of the company. Today, there is a distinct sustainability office and all employees are encouraged to submit ideas as to how the organization can become more sustainable. 

The chapter then goes on to highlight some distinct initiatives at the company:

  • Generation M. These are distinct promises to the next generation as to particular goals of the company.
  • From the Region for the Region. This initiative seeks to build relationships with local producers to supply the local markets.
  • Private-Label Products. Migros developed their own private label to enhance the sustainability of products they sell.
  • M-Way. This is a transportation initiative that seeks to advance electronic vehicle use.
  • Sharon. This is a car-sharing initiative that allows people to rent out their vehicle for a cost.
  • Reducing Food Waste. This is an initiative to reduce food waste within the company. 
The chapter highlights that there were four main ways that the company strengthened its sustainability management:
  • Integration of sustainability into corporate leadership
  • Strong engagement from employees
  • Guidance and monitoring by top management
  • Development of a sustainability team
As the authors highlight, Mirgos' approach is unique and that there is not one way forward to infuse sustainability within a management structure. However, managers have to be able to learn by doing and motivate customers to appreciate sustainability.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on sustainable management or sustainability retailing.

1. Consumer preferences for sustainable products, such as local produce, have increased. What do you think is driving that change?

2. Describe the nature of Migros' business operations and philosophy.

3. How does Migros benchmark its green initiatives?

4. How does MIgros' management system infuse sustainability within its operations?

5. What is an example of a Generation M promise?

6. How have consumers responded to the From the Region For the Region label?

7. What strategies does Migros use to reduce food waste?

8. Do you think the Migos approach could be used by other retailers? How?

Previous Entries in This Series


Friday, July 30, 2021

My Interview With Carl Smith, Author of Chicago's Great Fire: Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City

When I heard there was a new book on the Great Chicago Fire, I had to get it. I’ve always been fascinated by the fire because it occurred on the same date (October 8, 1871) as the less famous, but larger and more deadly, Peshtigo Fire, which started near where I grew up in Northern Wisconsin. The book, Chicago’s Great Fire:  The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City by Carl Smith is a wonderful review of the fire and its aftermath. The author is the Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies and a Professor of History, Emeritus at Northwestern University. I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Smith for On the Brink and I hope you enjoy our written conversation below. Chicago’s Great Fire is available from Grove Atlantic Press here.

Brinkmann:  I really enjoyed reading Chicago’s Great Fire. I have always been interested in the fire because I grew up in the area where the Peshtigo fire occurred on the same date in Wisconsin. Many lost their lives in both fires and there are amazing stories of survival and recovery in both instances. The fires continue to fascinate and provide lessons for us. What inspired you to take on this big project?

 

The author, Carl Smith.
Smith:  I’m an urban cultural historian who focuses on the great age of American urbanization, which really accelerated starting about 1830 or 1840, and with Chicago being the central example.  And I am especially interested in what I call the infrastructure of ideas, the views of the world that people live in as much as they live in the physical built environment.  The two infrastructures are closely related.  I became particularly interested in moments of crisis like the fire for the way they both revealed and altered both the physical and mental worlds in which city people lived.  To put this another way, I like to study moments of crisis through the eyes of people living in cities in order to understand how these affected their views of experience and how changes in ideas mattered.

 

Brinkmann:  One of the things that strikes me about both the Peshtigo and Chicago Fires is that they both occurred as a result of human agency. In the Peshtigo Fire, much of Northern Wisconsin, just prior to the fire, experienced a wide swath of regional deforestation--with much of the timber heading for Chicago. The left-behind-limbs made for ready fire fuel. In the Chicago fire, the massive population boom in the middle of the 19th century caused rapid expansion of vast acres of wood-framed housing, commercial, and industrial buildings. While it seems there was plenty of warning of the risk of fire to Chicagoans before the fire, the building of wood buildings went on apace. Why do you think there was so little interest in reducing the conditions that led to the fire in Chicago?

 

Smith:  Chicago was a place in a great hurry, and wood was a cheap, conveniently located, and remarkable flexible resource for building up a city in a hurry.  Chicago was so fixated on a bigger and better future that it paid relatively little attention to today.  In defense of Chicago, it was hardly the only wooden and fire-prone city. Nineteenth-century city building in many respects involved the transformation of wood from trees to cities and towns.  With plenty of fires.

 

Brinkmann:  Given that this is a sustainability blog, I have to draw parallels between the Chicago and Peshtigo fires and what we are seeing today with climate change and with the destruction of natural environments. Did you see these parallels as you were working on the book?

 

Smith:  Besides a few eloquent voices like that of George Perkins Marsh, I don’t think many Americans in the decades before the fire were thinking much about sustainability.  The key link is a focus on the supposed needs of today without sufficient thought to the consequences even of practices we know jeopardize tomorrow.

 

Click for image credit.
Brinkmann:  One interesting aspect of the book is that you note how often people of the lower classes were either scapegoated or victimized by the fire and its aftermath. You point out that Mrs. O’Leary was really more of a scapegoat than an originator of the fire and you demonstrate that wealthy elites who managed the relief operations after the fire made actual real help very difficult to get. My favorite example is how one group, upset with throngs waiting to apply for assistance outside of the headquarters of the agency, decided to require individuals to apply in writing via mail. Of course, many who needed help didn’t have the ability to write which left them without access to aid. What happened in Chicago after the fire seems to have echoes of similar events in other cities around the world around the same time. How intentional was class struggle a theme in your book? 

 

Smith:  I think that class conflict was so obviously there that I would have had to intended to ignore it.  And do not overlook ethnic conflict, though class and ethnic differences correlated a great deal.  The term “class struggle” has implications of Marxist rhetoric, and while his ideas were rapidly spreading, I think what we see more of in Chicago at the time of the fire is conflict in terms of fair treatment of workers, not the rise of the proletariat, though mainstream newspapers and business leaders did not hesitate to describe any worker protest as communism, knowing this was an effective rhetorical tactic.  

 

The inside of the Peshtigo Fire Museum.
Click for image credit.
Brinkmann:  I remember as a child visiting the Peshtigo Fire Museum which houses an impressive collection of artifacts from that famous fire. The materials that they have on display are shocking representations of the fire’s strength and the amount of loss that occurred. Plus, if you knew where to look, you could see remnants of the fire’s destruction in some areas of the region. While Chicago has some scattered collections from the fire (most notably at the Chicago History Museum), it seems that there isn’t one single site that fully memorializes the fire. Certainly there is the memorial at the Quinn Fire Academy—which aptly is located at the site of what was the O’Leary home--and the collections at the Chicago History Museum. But few buildings or artifacts exist from the era that are part of the consciousness of the city. I would argue that because of this, the Peshtigo fire looms larger in the minds of folks in northern Wisconsin than the Chicago Fire does in the minds of Chicagoans. Indeed, due to the fire quickly and early entering the realm of myth with the Cycloramas that depicted the fire as part of entertainment shortly after the fire (especially during the Columbian Exhibition of 1893) and the caricature representations of Mrs. O’Leary by everyone from cartoonists to Norman Rockwell, it is hard to orient the reality of the fire in the public’s imagination. Real and tangible evidence of the fire is hard to find. Do you agree with this and how do you think today’s Chicagoans view the fire today?

 

The Water Tower.
Click for image credit.
Smith:  I have actually thought a good deal about why there is no real fire memorial.  The closest Chicago has is an unofficial one, the Water Tower, and that really commemorates not the fire but the city’s resilience in the face of such a tremendous challenge.  Chicago quickly integrated the fire into the idea that it was indestructible.  There were attempts to erect memorials, but they didn’t go very far.  As part of its current reconstruction project, the Chicago History Museum is putting an enormous piece of melted iron—supposedly the inventory of a hardware store—on prominent outdoor display right next to it.  I’m not sure Chicagoans of today think about the fire very much, and when they do they think of it in terms of the O’Leary legend and the city’s remarkable recovery, not the destruction and loss.

 

Brinkmann:  One of the great sayings that came out of the fire was “I Will” which was carved on a bust of an Amazonian warrior that represented Chicago at the Columbian Exhibition and that was used again on an art deco poster that celebrated the semi-centennial of the fire in 1921. It seems that some of the meaning of the “I Will” represented a range of boosterish feelings about rebuilding Chicago. But to me, it also represents some of the intent of local government to make tough decisions after the fire regarding zoning and safety standards. What do you think made the “I Will” statement so enduring in the decades after the fire?  

 

Smith:  I don’t think people associate I Will much with the fire any more, to the extent that they think of it at all.  And I don’t think they think of it in terms of hard decisions, but more in terms of another Chicago self-affirming idea, that it is “the city that works.”  It is related to a self-conception of Chicago as a place where determination and hard work conquers all, whether or not that is true, that nothing can lick Chicago.

 

Brinkmann:  Over the years, I spent quite a bit of time doing field work in northern California and I could take you to the places where Santa Rosa dumped all of the debris from the destruction that occurred in that city after the 1906 earthquake. The Marina District of San Francisco is largely underlain by debris from that city’s earthquake and subsequent fire. After 9-11, much of what was left from the Twin Towers ended up in landfills in New Jersey, while large pieces of the building exist as memorials all over the New York Region. What happened to all the stuff left over from the Chicago Fire?

 

Bob Brinkmann in Millennium Park.
Smith:  As I discuss in the book, a good deal of it was dumped into Lake Michigan near where Grant and Millennium Parks are today, filling the lagoon that had been created when in the early 1850s the Illinois Central erected a trestle and breakwater a few hundred yards out in the lake in order to get access to the city.  The building of the breakwater was in exchange for obtaining this right of way.  Much of Chicago, especially along the lakefront, is fill.  Many other cities are substantially built on fill.  You mentioned San Francisco.  Boston is close to two-thirds filled land.  A significant number of bricks were reused.  If you look at the photo on the cover of my book, you will see on the right what I think is a bin of salvaged bricks.

 

Brinkmann:  I always love to understand an author’s writing processes. I tend to be very regimented when I write and create daily word count goals. I also like to write very early in the morning before my brain turns to mush from the day’s activities. Writing such an impressive book as Chicago’s Great Fire must have taken some discipline and strategy. Could you share your approach?

 

Smith:  I had the great advantage that when I wrote this book I was retired from my long-time position as a professor, so I could arrange my hours as I wished.  I am more dogged than disciplined, that is, I work away on a project but I don’t have specific hours when I write, though it’s usually in the daytime, between mid-morning and late afternoon.  I’m a very early riser, but I find it difficult to sit down first thing and write.  The other issue is figuring out when you research and when you write.  I have usually come close to completing my research before writing, but in this book I found myself stopping to explore certain things further as they came up and then returning to writing.  And I am a rewriter.  This book went through close to two dozen different versions, and I was editing it up to the last minute.

 

Brinkmann:  I noted in your acknowledgements that you thanked several undergraduate students for assistance along with many others professionals at museums and universities. I was really impressed that you singled out undergraduate students for their support. Could you tell my readers a little bit about the support they gave to the project and the way you like to work with students?

 

Smith:  As a professor at Northwestern I was very fortunate in multiple ways.  I had very good students and there were resources available to pay them for their help.  They have been particularly good in assisting me in moving through large amounts of material in search of certain information.  A key example here is their reading daily newspapers in search of articles on particular subjects, e.g., the fire, and then reporting on what they find.  I am indeed indebted to them.  And I’m very proud that a number have gone on to successful careers in academia or related fields, such as librarianship.

 

Brinkmann:  Is there anything you wish to say about the book that I haven’t asked you?

 

Smith:  Only that I think the story of Chicago’s destruction by fire and its rebuilding is a wonderfully rich one, and I hope that I have told it well.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Nigerian Women Take on Chevron

A Niger Delta oil spill from about a decade ago.
Click for photo credit.
The New York Times published a fascinating piece about the impact of the Nigerian oil industry on women involved in fishery production in the delta of the Niger River. It is worth a read. After I read the piece, I couldn't help reflecting upon the wonderful book, Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement which I reviewed here in 2015.

Essentially, folks downriver from oil production were impacted in both locations by oil production. While Chevron is rebranding itself as a green(er, ish) energy company, they have legacy issues such as identified in the article. Oil production is inherently problematic and leads to pollution issues. Unfortunately, as the article and the linked book highlight, the impacts disproportionately fall on women. 

The Times article points out a complex series of issues associated with Nigeria's political situation. However, there is no doubt that wealth was extracted from the country at the expense of local Niger Delta fisheries  entrepreneurs. The questions remains as to if or when they will be compensated. Many parts of the world have benefited from Nigeria's oil extraction schemes. Local populations will be paying the price for generation due to lax environmental regulations.

Climate Adaptation Is All Around Us

A rain storm in Charleston. 
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There are so many examples of climate adaptation right in front of our face at this moment of time. All over the world, people are making lots of micro decisions that are changing the way that they react to real-time events such as floods, fires, droughts, or other extremes. 

I imagine that many of you reading this are adapting already. Maybe, if you are in the United States, you recognize that it is a bit more risky on the coast and you are changing your job search to the Midwest. Or maybe you are a farmer and modifying your planting schedule or crop choice. Or, you could be a homeowner in Charleston.

As the New York Times recently reported here, many folks in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, are raising their homes due to the increased frequency of flooding. This echoes what is happening all over the world as coastal communities come to grips with anthropogenic climate change.

If you look closely, you can see climate adaptation happening in real time. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Illinois Caverns Reopens After Bat Disease Scare

A cave opening in southern Illinois. 
Click for image credit.
As I am sure many of my readers know, a bat disease called White Nose Syndrome, has been ravaging bat populations across North America--particularly the eastern half of the country. The disease is fungal and caused widespread bat mortality in many locations. It is believed that the disease is spread, in part by humans, from cave visits and exploration. As a result, many caves across the U.S. have closed in order to protect the bats. I wrote about this illness in this space way back in 2011.

We know we need to protect bats because they are key to our survival. They pollinate crops, eat pesky insects, and provide lots of Halloween fun (just kidding on that last one!). Lots of effort has gone into trying to understand the disease and stop the spread of it across our country. The National Speleological Society and their network of cave clubs, called grottos, have been leading advocates for cave conservation and the protection of bats.

Caves are part of a fascinating and magnificent landscape type called karst. Karst landscapes form in soluble rock, usually limestone, and have all kinds of fascinating features including caves, sinkholes, springs, and disappearing streams. White Nose Syndrome brought together an alliance of karst scientists and bat biologists to try to understand how to solve the problem. For more background on karst, see my 10 days of karst series here.

In some positive news, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Illinois Caverns, the second largest cave in Illinois, is reopening after 10 years being closed due to concerns around the disease. The cave has a very small bat population and very few cases of the illness. 

Hohokam Pima National Monument

 Today I continue my series on all 129 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is Hohokam Pima National Monument in Arizona. Note that this National Monument is closed to the public. It is managed by the Gila River Indian Reservation and it is deemed too sensitive for visitors. The site was a thriving Hohokam village with up to 2000 residents and the archaeological remains are protected. As a result, there are very few open access images of this particular monument, but I am sharing the only image I could find. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the former president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Click for image credit.


Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments

Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort McHenry National Monument
Fort Monroe National Monument
Fort Ord National Monument
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Stanwix National Monument
Fort Union National Monument
Fossil Butte National Monument
Freedom Riders National Monument
George Washington Birthplace National Monument
George Washington Carver National Monument
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gold Butte National Monument
Governors Island National Monument

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 24: Sustainable Business

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This is the 24th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

Today's post is on Chapter 24, Sustainable Business by Deborah Rigling Gallagher of Duke University. The chapter begins with some background on sustainable businesses. They all, in some way, focus on the triple bottom line:  people, planet, and profits. In other words, the businesses bring forward the ideas of environmental protection and human rights in their business activities. Gallagher notes that sustainable businesses have a much expanded view of stakeholders than businesses of the past. Instead of only looking at those to whom that want to see and those who are employed in the company as stakeholders, businesses now look more deeply on the impacts of their businesses on communities. They engage much more with organizations like local governments, non-government organizations, schools, and others to inform their decision making. 

A key part of sustainable business stakeholder engagement is the ability to have transparent operations around their sustainability initiatives. There are a number of reporting initiatives, such as the Global Reporting Initiative, that help businesses communicate and verify their sustainability work. They may also go one step further to not only report, but certify. The International Organization for Standardization conducts some of this work, but there are others such as the Rainforest Alliance's work with tropical products.In addition, many businesses are framing their work around the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. This helps place their sustainability work within a broader global framework around issues like energy, water, education, health and well-being, or one of the other seventeen goals.

One of the main areas where sustainability initiatives have made huge differences in recent years is within the realm of supply chain management. Companies all over the world are looking at how decisions made within their procurement processes can help them achieve their sustainability goals. For example, companies may require suppliers to have particular social or ethical standards for workers or they may require suppliers to use less packaging or energy.

The chapter takes a look at one particular case study, Counter Culture Coffee. The case study reviews how the company worked with others to help them develop relationships that led to more sustainable purchasing decisions and to significantly reduced carbon. The chapter concludes with some lessons learned and challenges and barriers. As Gallagher notes, knowing customers and suppliers matters. By working closely with stakeholders and experts, the company was able to make key decisions that helps them become more sustainable.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on sustainable businesses.

1. How would you define a sustainable business?

2. Why is stakeholder communication so important for sustainability initiatives in businesses?

3. What is the Global Reporting Initiative and what do they measure?

4. What is ISO 14001?

5. What do the Sustainable Development Goals have to do with green businesses?

6. How have companies partnered with non-profit organizations to reach their sustainability goals?

7. Why do you think Counter Culture Coffee was so successful at achieving their sustainability goals?

8. Counter Culture Coffee managers noted that sustainability was "messy" in practice. What did they mean by that?

Previous Entries in This Series

New 30 Day Sustainability Challenge Starting August 15th

Join me starting August 15th! Change yourself
and change the world!
To celebrate the publication of my new book Practical Sustainability:  A Guide to Living a More Sustainability Life (available here or at your local bookseller), I am running another version of my 30 Day Sustainability Challenge starting August 15th. This time, I will run it live on my YouTube Channel here every morning at 7:45. The videos will be stored and you can watch them later. You can also comment and add your own ideas. I hope you can join me! 

Here's the schedule:

Day 1, August 15th. Introduction to the 30 Day Sustainability Challenge
Day 2, August 16th. Meatless Monday
Day 3, August 17th. Understanding Climate Change
Day 4, August 18th. Conducting Your Own Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Day 5. August 19th. Supporting Local and Small Businesses
Day 6. August 20th. Understanding Local Ecosystems
Day 7. August 21st. Household Waste Inventory
Day 8. August 22nd. Understanding Carbon Credits
Day 9. August 23rd. Understanding Veganism and Vegetarianism
Day 10. August 24th. Home Energy Reduction and Green Buildings
Day 11. August 25th. Water Reduction
Day 12. August 26th. Water Pollution and Drainage Basins
Day 13. August 27th. Minimalism
Day 14. August 28th. Green Economic Development
Day 15. August 29th. Ecotourism and Staycations
Day 16. August 30th. CSA's and Farmers' Markets
Day 17. August 31st. Organic Food
Day 18. September 1st. Enhancing Local Ecosystems
Day 19. September 2nd. Environmental Justice
Day 20. September 3rd. How to Reduce Rainforest Destruction
Day 21. September 4th. Home Furnishings and Sustainability
Day 22. September 5th. Sustainable Development Goals
Day 23. September 6th. Environmental Education
Day 24. September 7th. Slow Food
Day 25. September 8th. Food Deserts
Day 26. September 9th. Human Rights
Day 27. September 10th. Greening Your Transportation
Day 28. September 11th. Environmental Regulations
Day 29. September 12th. Surfing and Suffering Sustainability
Day 30. September 13th. Putting It All Together

Monday, July 26, 2021

Meatless Monday Part 3: Five Favorite Go To Meals


I am continuing my Meatless Monday Series today with a look at some of my favorite Meatless Monday go to meals. Links to the previous posts in the series are at the end of today's post. 

We all have favorite meals, but for some reason, even though I grew up in a Midwestern meat and potatoes kind of environment, vegetarian meals are among my go-to's when I want something that satisfies my appetite. I love the texture and crunch of vegetables and like them cooked or raw. Of course, as a native Wisconsinite, I also like cheese and dairy products. Thus, I can be pretty happy with vegan and vegetarian foods. For today's post, I thought I would share with you some of my all time favorite Meatless Monday foods that I like to make at home. 

1. Greek Salad. I love all kinds of salads, but the kind of Greek salad with just tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, red onions, oregano, Kalamata olives, and feta is my all time favorite. It is so easy to make and serve with a red wine vinegar dressing. You get plenty of protein from the feta, but you could leave it out and add some garbanzos to go totally vegan.

2. Vegan tamales. Tamales are super easy to make and most recipes produce tons of them that you can freeze or use for the week. Tamales consist of two parts:  a masa outside soft shell dough and filling. You can use any vegetable as a filling. For example, you could use black beans, sautéed vegetables, or any other stewed or soft vegetable. Traditionally, the masa is made with corn flour, salt, baking powder, water (or broth), and lard. All you have to do to make the tamales vegan is to replace a small can of pumpkin puree for the lard in any recipe you find. To add flavor, you can make a spicy sauce to go with the tamales. Yummy!

3. Pea pakora. Pakora are a bit similar to tamales or Chinese dumplings in concept. They are essentially small pies made with a simple thin dough filled with vegetables of your choosing. The fillings in theese Indian delicacies are often spiced with a delicious mix of garam masala, cinnamon, cumin, and other spices. The dough is usually made by mixing flour, vegetable oil, water, and salt together. Small pieces are rolled thin and filled and then baked. For the filling I usually use green peas or broccoli. Unlike dumplings or tamales, they are baked, not steamed. I like them with a cucumber yogurt sauce.

4. Vegetable stir fry. Veggie stir fries are easy and highly versatile depending upon the vegetables you have on hand. I typically use garlic, ginger, onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms, celery, Napa cabbage, and some canned vegetables like baby corn or bamboo shoots. I sometimes will add in some baked or raw tofu. I like to whip up a big batch so I have it for lunches for the week.

5. Grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. While the examples above all can be easily vegan, the star in in my grilled cheese is Wisconsin cheddar. I like a couple of nice slices of sharp cheddar and a nice thin slice of a fresh beefsteak tomato between Vienna bread or a nice hearty farm bread. You can add a couple of basil leaves to kick it up a notch. Toast it on both sides in some butter in a cast-iron skillet and you just made a Meatless Monday flavor bomb.

I could go on and on about my love for this kind of food and I could eat salads for almost every meal. But this list gives you some idea about how I approach Meatless Monday main dishes at home. I would love to hear from you in the comments about your Meatless Monday favorites.

Previous posts in this series:

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Proposed Carbon Tax on Import Appears Dead--But What Is It?

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The New York Times, in a recent article by Lisa Friedman, notes that a proposed carbon tax on imports appears dead in the water in congress. This isn't a particular surprise given the polarization in the American political system right now. However, it is rather disappointing given that it is clear that we are seeing significant acceleration of climate anomalies and we are running out of time to get our carbon emissions under control.

Nevertheless, it is worth breaking down the nature of this type of import tax. Picture this scenario. In the U.S., we impose a range of environmental regulations on industries to ensure that we are keeping the environment clean. These regulations now include a variety of carbon reduction strategies. Let's say that you own a steel company and decide that it would be cheaper for you to manufacture steel overseas due to the lax environmental regulations in some countries. You can pollute to your heart's content and the national government won't impose any regulatory requirements. Thus, your costs for manufacturing the steel is cheaper and you put yourself at a competitive advantage compared to steel companies that are playing by the rules in the United States. 

There are all kinds of ethical issues with this type of behavior. Perhaps the most obvious issue is environmental justice. By moving your company from the U.S. to a place with lax environmental regulations, you are imposing what you would be prevented on imposing in your home country on another population.

However, now that we are looking more and more at the atmosphere as a commons issue, there are other ethical considerations that must be made. If you as an American move a company overseas to avoid American law so that you can pollute the global commons, you would be engaging in deeply unethical conduct. If you are unfamiliar with the term "commons" in this paragraph, it comes from the essay, The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garett Hardin, which was published by Science in 1968. Many governments have developed an ethical framework for managing our national and global commons through laws and regulations. If you move a company to a location that does not use such laws, you are abrogating your responsibility as a national and corporate citizen. In other words, you have gone rogue and lawless and hold no allegiance to your home country.

In such situations, nations can impose taxes or tariffs so that companies pay a cost for this unethical behavior. It looks like the European Union may enact such a policy in the near future. However, for now, the U.S. will continue to import materials that are produced by companies that take advantage of lax environmental and climate policy without penalty.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Organic Food Quiz

Click for photo credit.
July in the Midwestern United States finds farmers' markets brimming over with produce. I thought it was a great time for me to post a new On the Brink Quiz. This time, it is all about organic food. Check to see how much you know about organic food below. Links to other On the Brink quizzes follows the questions.

1. What organization regulates organic food in the United States?

2. Organic food emerged as a response to what type of agriculture?

3. The term "organic" was defined legally in the United States in which year? 

4. What percent of all food sold in the U.S. is considered organic?

5. What class of foods are responsible for the largest share of the organic market? 

6. Which country has the largest share of organic food sales in the world?

7. Organic farmland must be certified by experts that certify that pesticides and non-organic fertilizers are not used. Which country has the most certified organic cropland in the world?

8. While the country in question 7 has the most certified organic farmland, another country has the most exports of organic food. Name this major food exporting country? 

9. The main certifying agency from question 1 will certify 4 types of organic products:  crops, livestock, wild crops, and one other. Name the fourth type of product? 

10. According to US guidelines, how many years must a field use organic farming processes prior to harvesting in order to earn certification? 

Florida Python Hunt Nabs Giant 16-Foot Python

Florida Governor DeSantis kicking off the
annual python hunt. Click for image credit.
This blog has been following with great interest the rapid expansion of the Burmese python across Florida over the last several years. Indeed, my first post on this topic goes back to 2012. Since then, the python has greatly expanded across the state and wiped out lots of small and mid-sized mammals and other species. They have even been known to attack and eat alligators.

Each year about this time, the state encourages folks to head out and kill as many pythons as they can in an annual hunt. This is totally fine by me from a sustainability perspective. The pythons are invasive and have taken the niche spot of other predators that are missing from the landscape.  Make no mistake about it, the hunts barely make a dent in the number of pythons in Florida. There are tens of thousands of them across the state (some even estimate hundreds of thousands) and the hunt only brings in a relatively small number. Last year, the hunt only brought in about 60 pythons, although that number was probably low due to COVID. The biggest python caught last year was around 12 feet long.

News broke recently that hunters nabbed a 16 footer from the Everglades! Wowza. Check out the story with photos here. The pythons don't seem to be slowing down. All I can say is that we need a bigger boat (Jaws reference in case you don't get it).

If you search this blog for "python" you'll find lots of other Florida python content from over the years.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 129 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is Harriet Tubman National Monument in Maryland. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the former president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Click for image credit.
Click for image credit.

Click for image credit.

Click for image credit.

Click for image credit.

Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments

Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort McHenry National Monument
Fort Monroe National Monument
Fort Ord National Monument
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Stanwix National Monument
Fort Union National Monument
Fossil Butte National Monument
Freedom Riders National Monument
George Washington Birthplace National Monument
George Washington Carver National Monument
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gold Butte National Monument
Governors Island National Monument

Sustainability Case Studies 23: Economic Development and Sustainability

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
This is the 23rd post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

This chapter is called Economic Development and Sustainability:  A Case Study from Long Island New York, by Robert Brinkmann (me). The chapter begins with a review of how economic development has been a part of our modern economic world for generations. From the Department of Commerce to state and local government economic development offices, governments are deeply involved in trying to advance national, state, and local economic interests. Many industry organizations are also involved. For example, the California Association of Wine Growers works to advance the economic agendas of their members. 

Brinkmann reviews a range of tools available to those involved with economic development including tax breaks, land use, direct investments, laws and zoning, technical assistance, infrastructure development, education, and political access. He also points out that there are distinct ways to measure the success of economic development interests such as in jobs created or number of businesses opened. However, there are distinct critiques of traditional economic development that are discussed within two themes:  opportunities for corruption and the fallacy of unending growth.

The chapters continues with a discussion of sustainability and economic development. Some major themes include public lands, water, energy, agriculture, food, transportation, building, land use, environmental justice, brownfields, pollution, and ecosystems. Businesses are searching for ways to become more authentic with their sustainability initiatives and are often searching for local partners where they can advance their business while enhancing local sustainability. For example, a large computer company may search for a location for a manufacturing site where they can help a region develop green energy sources. Or, a food company may wish to expand the amount of organic food they use by partnering with local food growers to ramp up their output. No matter the approach, sustainability is becoming a much bigger part of economic development in our modern era.

More natural assets of Long Island:  the impressive
beach. Photo by Bob Brinkmann, your author, on left.
The chapter focuses its case study on how the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council infused sustainability within a new innovative approach to economic development put forward by Governor Cuomo. After the downturn of the Great Recession, Cuomo divided New York State into several regions for distinct state investment. Each region created a council that was charged with working with local leaders to develop an agenda that would enhance and grow the economy. On Long Island, the local council decided to infuse sustainability and natural assets within their plan. Individuals and organizations (both for profit and non-profit) could submit projects that sought some degree of investment from the state. The organizations had to come to the table with personal or organizational funds. The projects that focused on sustainability or natural assets centered largely on agricultural enterprises, improving fisheries of shellfishing, and protecting natural assets like waterways and natural landscapes.

The chapter provides several examples of successful projects. For example, one project focused on growing the Peconic Bay scallop industry that declined decades ago. Improved water in the Bay suggested that reintroduction of the scallops in the Bay could greatly enhance the shellfishing industry in the area and the Long Island Economic Development team supported a range of initiatives to advance the restoration of the scallop industry.

The chapter notes that there are several lessons learned. Certainly economic development did not solve Long Island's sustainability problems. However, the fact that sustainability was infused in many of the projects was seen as a win for advancing a regional sustainability agenda. However, sustainability was not the only deciding factor in what got funded by the council. Some projects were funded that had negative impacts on the environment. In addition, because there were not clear sustainability benchmarking outcome metrics associated with the plans, it was hard to assess the overall success of the projects. Nevertheless, the Long Island region, which is largely considered suburban New York City, is one of the only suburban regions of the country to infuse sustainability within an economic development framework.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on green economic development.

1. What are some local examples of how our community sponsors a particular type of economic development in our region?

2. What groups are involved in local economic development in our area?

3. Economic leaders are keen to get involved with economic development. How do you think economic development advocates can ensure that projects don't become a form of local greenwashing?

4. Given the State of New York's economic strength, why do you think Governor Cuomo put so much emphasis on economic development during the Great Recession?

5. Why do you think Long Island emphasized sustainability and other regions of our country do not?

6. Benchmarking of success of economic development is largely focused on job or business creation. What alternative benchmarking tools could be developed around two of the major Long Island sustainability themes of agriculture and fisheries?

7. One of the three themes of Long Island's sustainability approach was protection of natural assets. Why do you think protection of these natural assets were so important to those interested in economic development?

8. If we were to start a green economic development project in our region, what types of projects would we support?

Previous Entries in This Series