What is the United Nations Global Compact and why does it matter?

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

Anyone who cares about global competition and free trade, will also care about the United Nations Global Compact. Like SA 8000, a global social accountability standard for decent working conditions, it focuses on the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.  There are many prominent U.S. businesses that have committed to the principles of the compact: Levi Strauss, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Price Waterhouse auditors and Nike are all participants.

Each business that joins the UN Global Compact is expected to embrace the 10 fundamental principles of the Compact, to the best of their ability and within their realm of influence. As listed on the organization’s website, here are the 10 principles:

Human Rights:

1)             support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

2)             protect against human rights abuses.

Labor:

3)             uphold the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

4)             the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

5)             the effective abolition of child labour; and

6)             the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation.

Environment:

7)             support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

8)             undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

9)             encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Anti-Corruption:

10)          work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.

The Compact is designed as a forum for businesses globally to collaborate within a practical framework to exchange best practices and facilitate the development of sustainable business methods. According to its website, www.unglobalcompact.org, the Compact has over 8700 corporate participants in 130 countries. With this kind of participation, there is certainly hope that businesses can start working together on a global level to infuse human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption ideals at a global level, and that those ideals can have an impact locally.

It should not surprise us that companies that take to heart the provisions of SA 8000 are often committed to a broader range of compacts focused on global equity, protection of the environment and protecting our natural resources.  We believe the principles of the UN Global Compact and SA 8000 are important in “shifting the balance” toward a healthier planet.

Made in USA Series: The Grocery Store

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

I have always made an effort to buy local. Usually this has translated into frequenting the local farmers’ market or perhaps stopping by a roadside stand. However, I still go to the grocery store for most of my food items. This is where the challenge begins.

The bulk of my grocery items tend to be fresh produce. I know a lot of people buy frozen veggies and canned goods, but something about fresh, crunchy fruits and vegetables just makes me happy. They smell better, taste better, and overall make me feel better. But does it matter where exactly they come from? I think so. Not necessarily for health reasons, though many would say this is a factor, but also for environmental and economic reasons. Buying locally grown produce helps support local farms (economic benefit) as well as increased sustainability (environmental benefit).

If you’re standing in the grocery store and you want to buy tomatoes, as I was the other day, most of the labels are likely to say “Product of Mexico” on them. (Please note, I have nothing against Mexico, or any other country where many things are grown, I just think it’s important to support U.S. farms and lower our carbon footprint by buying in the U.S.). However, if you search through the different tomato varieties, you can find some that say “Product of USA.” They may cost the same. The Mexico tomatoes might be a little cheaper. But think about the cost of getting those Mexico tomatoes into your grocery store compared to the USA tomatoes. It took more gasoline, they’ve likely traveled at least a day longer and are therefore not as fresh, and they’re not products of U.S. farms. It’s like outsourcing our call centers to India. We’ve outsourced our tomatoes to Mexico. But why? We certainly don’t need to if we can produce tomatoes here in the U.S. Well, I pose that it’s because when faced with the decision of which tomatoes to buy at the store, many people will still buy the tomatoes produced in Mexico. It’s not that they mean to choose between Mexico and USA, they just don’t think about it.

So here is my challenge to you, a challenge I am currently taking on myself. Try to buy fresh produce that says “Product of USA” on the sticker. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Sure, there are a few things you might sacrifice. Last week I couldn’t find any grapes from the U.S., nor could I find local bananas. But everything else has a U.S. grown version if you just take the time to look. Tomatoes, peppers, all kinds of lettuce, fennel, apples, oranges, berries…the list goes on.

Please feel free to share what kinds of produce you can find with a USA sticker, and what produce you can’t find. It will be interesting to see what kinds of U.S. grown fruits and vegetables are more easily available around the country.

A Walk in the Park: Shollenberger Park in Petaluma

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

This past weekend we decided to take Lily and Cousteau for a walk around Shollenberger Park on the south end of Petaluma. The park is a 165-acre area with a two-mile trail surrounding wetlands and mudflats. On the north end of the park, another trail juts off toward the marina that goes a mile through a marsh. The park also abuts the Petaluma River, which is a beautiful sight to see. To give you an idea of the flow of things, the river flows downstream to San Pablo Bay, which connects into San Francisco Bay, which connects, of course, to the Pacific Ocean.

Shollenberger is a great place to go for a walk, run, or casual stroll. The whole park is filled with different kinds of birds. There are ducks, geese, swans, vultures, avocets, gulls, doves, plovers, falcons, crows, hummingbirds, and more. And that’s just a list of the commonly seen birds in the wetlands! There is a great list of birds on the Petaluma Wetlands website, the organization that oversees the protection and operation of the park. You can see the list at www.petalumawetlands.org.

As we walked around the trail, I could not help but think that this is exactly the type of park that both provides a healthy place for people to visit and a safe haven for local wildlife. It is a place of balance. People can enjoy the trails and the scenery, and the birds and other creatures can live relatively undisturbed. What a wonderful environment.

We continue to explore wonderful places like this in and around our new stomping grounds. Let the adventures continue!

Global warming and the need for leadership – Meg’s research from 2008

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

I wrote this as part of my senior thesis at the University of Kansas in May 2008. The class was about the history of accidents, both natural and human-induced. I looked at a place in Greenland dubbed “Warming Island” that was visited by a U.S. delegation led by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of representatives.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, the representative from the 5th District of Missouri (Kansas City area), was a part of the delegation to Greenland. In the two summers following his trip, I was able to intern in his DC and Kansas City offices. His ideas about global warming and the environment in many ways sparked my current interest in environmental health. He is so unbelievably passionate about bettering the world, it just naturally rubs off on anyone he meets. During his initial campaign for Congress, my granddad Mesle met him and worked on his campaign. Granddad still talks about how nice Rep. Cleaver was to be around, how he wears his love for his community on his sleeve, and always asks me to tell him hello.

I don’t necessarily mean to sound like I’m putting in my plug for Cleaver, I just think it’s important to understand where the inspiration comes from. He really has been a significant influence in my growing interest of balancing community needs with environmental needs, all while juggling the various issues of the world. I’d like to share an excerpt from my 2008 thesis about Warming Island in Greenland, and Rep. Cleaver’s commitment to community and environmental health. Please note, the following information is current as of May 2008.

Here you go.

 “Warming Island” in Greenland

The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is the second largest ice sheet in the world next to the Antarctic Ice Sheet. During Speaker Pelosi’s delegation to Greenland in May 2007, she noticed the rapid speed at which the ice is breaking off and melting. She learned the amount of ice breaking off in two days time would provide enough fresh water for all of New York City for an entire year. The delegation inspired other political officials to travel to the island, including several Senators, in July 2007.

Some scientists say the melting ice is being offset by the amount of snow accumulation during the winter months, but there is also a highly significant correlation within the last decade of temperatures in Greenland with the Northern Hemisphere. This correlation suggests that global warming may very well be emerging within GrIS in the present day. One man, who is a veteran arctic explorer, made a discovery several years ago that would change the visible perception of global warming.

Dennis Schmidt is an explorer who discovered “Warming Island” in Greenland in September 2005. It is an island on the east side of Greenland, about 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, which was previously thought to be a peninsula. During an expedition to GrIS in September 2006, Schmidt commented that documenting the island was important because it is, “a very visual, very graphic example of climate change… maybe the best that exists in the world today.” Makers of this video documentary who traveled with Schmidt reflected on how scientists had been warning for years that the warming atmosphere would “wake up” the ice sheet and send hundreds of billions of tons of ice surging into the ocean, raising sea levels and drowning coastal cities. (To see a brief video documenting the island, click here.)

“I think a lot of people that will look at this will be fascinated because of its beauty, but also interested in it because it is a clear example of climate change,” commented Schmidt about the view of the landscape. In the documentary, the visible gap between the mainland and the now island appears to be at least several hundred feet. When Speaker Pelosi’s delegation travelled to the island in May 2007, they witnessed these effects first hand and realized the severity of global warming.


Cleaver’s commitment to the environment

To approach the issues surrounding global warming, Congressman Cleaver uses many different strategies. It is my understanding that neither oil companies nor delegates for non-renewable resource companies financially support Cleaver’s political office. He is therefore more flexible to speak openly about his concerns for the environment and what he believes to be the root causes for those concerns (such as oil companies drilling in the Chukchi).

When he addressed the Progressive National Baptist Convention in August 2007, Cleaver asserted to his listeners to make the earth’s environment a high priority. “There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the sin of materialism and greed are inextricably linked to the alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and that, my friends, demands an urgent response,” he asserted. This comment followed a lunch conversation I had with him while in Washington D.C. during the summer of 2007. Cleaver believes there are many ways to attack the problems of global warming. One of those ways is through politics and legislation, and the other way is through religious promotion of possible solution. “If one Sunday, every preacher in the country said that everyone needs to use less gas, less water, recycle more, and care more about our environment, on Monday morning, everyone would be out buying a hybrid car.” He acknowledges that there is more than one way to approach global warming, and it is important to try to get through to people on multiple levels to ensure that the message about global warming gets across.

Protecting the environment and the vulnerable communities in the world from global warming is an important issue for which few people are up to the task. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver focuses on bringing together communities and protecting them from social and environmental injustice, which makes him a perfect candidate for provoking global unity. Cleaver is a man who is focused on solutions to problems surrounding struggling communities, whether they are black, poor, polar bear, or arctic ice. He believes in a balance within the social and spiritual spheres that keeps the world in harmony. When that balance is shifted, the world struggles, and Cleaver takes it upon himself to help bring the world back into balance.

– Meg McCollister, May 2008