Newsmakers: Starbucks, Whole Foods, Home Depot, Toyota, Pepsi & Coke, and more…

Starbucks is facing mounting pressure on several fronts: to brew and promote Fair Trade Coffee (that guarantees a decent wage to coffee growers); to label products that contain genetically engineered ingredients; and to stop selling milk products that contain rBGH hormones. The issue of GMO labeling received seven percent of the vote at the February 28 shareholder meeting (enough to bring it to the floor again next year). The company says it supports federal GMO labeling, but not on its own products.

Starbucks buys one percent of the world’s coffee output, but its 5000 cafes (it plans to add another 1200 this year) make it a visible target. The company has responded to pressure by offering organic cow’s milk and soy milk for an additional price and is buying 1 million pounds (455,000 kg) of Fair Trade coffee over the coming 12 – 18 months, guaranteeing at least $1.26 per pound to small farmers hammered by low prices and a worldwide coffee glut. Critics note that 165 million pounds (75 million kg) of Fair Trade beans are produced annually; total world coffee supply is near 15 billion pounds (6.6 billion kg), making Starbucks commitment small in comparison.

The company counters that more than half its beans come directly from farms or co-ops, eliminating markups by middlemen and thus maximizing payments to farmers. The company estimates that 20 percent of its milk is hormone-free and that customers have shown little interest in the new options. Learn more: [sorry this link is no longer available]

Whole Foods Market (WFMI), the largest U.S. natural foods supermarket chain, reports a dramatic increase in sales from to US$643.4 million to US$780.8 million in the same quarter last year. Same store sales rose by 9 percent and earnings rose from US$15.0 million to US$20.1 million. This is the ninth quarter in a row of over 20% sales growth, according to management. The company predicts sales will grow 15 – 20% in the coming year. Read about companies like this in Progressive Investor.

It’s an end of an era at The Body Shop as the Roddick’s officially end their management roles. The new company chair has been quoted as saying “profits come before passion.”

Home Depot and Lowe’s will stop selling arsenic-treated wood in advance of the January 2004 deadline agreed to by the US EPA and the wood-treating industry. After that date, chromated copper arsenate (which contains the carcinogen arsenic) cannot be used for patios, play structures, fencing or other residential projects. The chemical is used in about 90 percent of pressure-treated lumber to protect it from rotting and insect damage. CCA-treated wood alternatives include untreated lumber and composite decking.

Pepsi announced it will manufacture bottles with 10 percent recycled plastic by 2005. Coca-Cola Co. announced similar plans last year. Both companies committed to using 25 percent recycled content back in 1990 and have been subject to shareholder resolutions and on-going pressure to use recycled content. Activists are asking Pepsi to begin using 10 percent recycled plastic immediately, and are urging both beverage giants to set a goal of 25 percent recycled plastic by 2005. “Given how quickly Coke has been able to move three quarters of their North American bottles to 10 percent recycled content, we don’t understand why it should take Pepsi until 2005 to reach the same result,” says Bill Sheehan, Executive Director, Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN).

PepsiCo recently acquired the Gatorade brand, which has been using 25 percent recycled plastic for nine years. Coke uses 25 percent recycled plastic in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden, and even offers refillable bottles in France and Latin America. Over 40 million Pepsi soft drink containers become litter or get sent to landfills and incinerators every day.

Timberland, the footwear and outdoor clothing manufacturer, purchased renewable energy credits from a wind farm
in South Dakota. Timberland is on its way to becoming a “carbon neutral” company by offsetting its carbon emissions. By purchasing green tags’ from a family-owned wind farm it subsidizes construction of more wind farms and ‘retires’ 2,400 tons of carbon dioxide. This offsets two years worth of carbon pollution from using electricity at its 67 U.S. retail stores. Visit NativeEnergy to learn more about green tags.

GE Power Systems, a subsidiary of General Electric, will Enron Wind, the seventh largest wind manufacturer in the world. The transaction is expected to close in April 2002. GE will own the turbine manufacturing and marketing operations, but not the wind facilities owned or operated by Enron. Corp. The acquisition is GE’s “initial investment into renewable wind power, one of the fastest growing energy sectors”, says John Rice, president and CEO of GE Power Systems.

Siemens Power Group will build Europe’s first fuel cell power plant in Hanover. The €5 million solid oxide fuel cell plant will feed 250 kilowatts of electricity and 160 kW of heat into the grid. The plant will operate at over 80 percent efficiency and is expected to be completed by 2003. Siemens Power is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, formerly a Siemens Westinghouse research and development center. A fuel cell production facility there is scheduled to begin ramping up to 100 MW per year of production starting in the fall of 2003.

Toyota expects to be first automaker to commercially produce a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle. The FCHV-4, which stands for “fuel cell hybrid vehicle,” will go on sale in the Tokyo area by the summer of 2003. The car, which is modeled after its Kluger V SUV (in North America it is called the Highlander), will have a top speed of 95 miles (150 km) per hour and a range of 155 miles (250 km). The US$75,000 price tag will keep it out of reach of the general public. Target customers are large corporations and government. Hydrogen fueling stations are being set up in Tokyo now.

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