Sustainability watch

In This Section

July 2011

With this issue, inform begins a new column, featuring some of the latest news and research on sustainability.

Driving a car increases global temperatures in the long run more than making the same long-distance journey by air according to a new study. However, in the short run, traveling by air has a larger adverse climate impact because airplanes strongly affect short-lived warming processes at high altitudes. The study appears in Environmental Science & Technology (44:5700-5706, 2010).

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.-the world's largest retailer-has introduced a new global initiative aimed at reducing the environmental impact of farming and at helping small- and medium-sized farms expand their businesses. Among other measures, the company said it will require sustainably sourced palm oil for all Walmart private brand products globally by the end of 2015. "Sourcing sustainable palm oil for our UK and US private brand products alone will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five million metric tons by the end of 2015," the company said in a news release (

Frito-Lay Inc. (Plano, Texas, USA), a division of PepsiCo, has sacked its compostable SunChips bag less than a year after its introduction in January 2010. The "green" packaging is made of 100% compostable PLA (polylactic acid). The Wall Street Journal's Suzanne Vranica spoke with Frito-Lay's North American Manager of Sustainable Packaging Brad Rodgers about the new packaging. She writes: "So why is the packaging so loud? The new polymers have a higher ‘glass transition temperature,' which is when a polymer goes from a harder, glasslike state to a rubber state. Because the transition to rubberiness happens a bit above room temperature, the bag is ‘kind of crispy and crunchy,'" says Rodgers. The move signals the increasing power of social media to affect decisions by industry: A Facebook group with more than 52,000 members calling itself Sorry But I Can't Hear You Over This Sun Chips Bag is credited in part with Frito-Lay's decision.

A recent report from Statistics Canada details a troubling decline in total water resources for the southern part of the country, where most of the population lives and where the bulk of manufacturing and agricultural operations are located. According to the study, renewable water resources in southern Canada have declined during the period 1971-2004 by an average of 3.5 cubic kilometers a year, which represents enough water to fill 1.4 million Olympic-size swimming pools. The report is available online at

Citing the ability to balance long-term sustainability goals with the need to perform competitively, McDonald's USA has selected Cargill for its 2010 US Sustainability Award. Among other accomplishments, McDonald's cited Cargill's establishment of 2015 environmental goals in energy efficiency, greenhouse gas intensity, renewable energy use, and freshwater efficiency; as well as reporting annual progress against those goals. The US Sustainability Award follows McDonald's recognition of five Cargill business units in its "2010 Global Best of Sustainable Supply Report," which was released earlier this year, as well as Cargill Meats Europe earning McDonald's European Sustainability Supplier of the Year Award 2010. The award was announced in September at the company's US Suppliers Summit in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Key articles in a special print edition of Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T) are now available online at The articles will appear January 1, 2011, in an ES&T print issue on environmental policy. The entire special issue will be available without charge online throughout 2011, when the world celebrates the International Year of Chemistry.

Kraft Foods, Inc. (Northfield, Illinois, USA) is the first US-based food company to appear on the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index-a database of firms that disclose carbon emissions data through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The company joins the top scoring 10% of the world's companies in the Global 500 and Standard & Poor's 500.