Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 18, No. 6, June 24, 2014
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This issue continues our review of bioproducts and their role in the economy that we began last issue. But this time we are not all about bioproducts. We also have a review of the Ontario Budget; a commentary on use of the word ‟natural" on products; a review of McDonough and Baumgart's new book The Upcycle; an ‛upcycled' product - the Steelcase Think chair;

Under the bioproducts theme we have an article on the relative lack of bioeconomy activity in Canada, except for bioethanol; a review of the EU bioeconomy initiative; the British Columbia bioeconomy plan; remarks about an insect-derived food colouring; biotalent (jobs in the bioeconomy); cellulose filament in packaging products; an example of how natural plant materials can be bad for health (something that is very important to remember - natural does not always mean good for health or good for the environment); the possible role of wool in a bioeconomy; Ontario finally does the right thing on the monarch butterfly's favourite, and only, food for its caterpillar form; and a brief update on the new GRI G4 sustainability reporting guidelines. A thoroughly eclectic issue with, we hope, lots of information for all our readers.

The theme for our next issue will be edible packaging. Another biomaterial or a bizarre idea? You will be able to read our views and the views of other experts. Meanwhile, enjoy this issue, enjoy the summer, and send your comments, suggestions, and even your questions for possible publication, to We promise to publish a selection.


The 2014 Ontario budget was presented to the Legislature by Finance Minister Charles Sousa on May 1st. On May 2nd NDP Leader Andrea Horwath indicated that her party would not be supporting the budget and this decision, indicating that the government had lost the confidence of a majority of members of the legislature, led to a provincial election which was held on June 12th. After winning a majority of Legislature seats in that election, Premier Kathleen Wynne has indicated that the budget that the government will introduce in early July will be essentially the same as that which was introduced on May 1st. GallonLetter therefore went searching in the May 1st Budget for items which are relevant to the environment and sustainable development agenda.

With the exception of the very substantial capital funding for transit services, certainly nothing to belittle, we did not find much.

In the transit area the Budget commits to an investment of $29 billion in transportation infrastructure over the next 10 years, of which not all is for public transportation. Much of this money will come from sale of, and unlocking value from, government investments and some will come from changes to the corporate tax system. A Task force is being set up to make recommendations on government investments.

In other areas - well, the Budget Speech does not contain the word Environment, as in natural environment and the word Energy, as in energy conservation, is used only sparingly. Energy programs include:
  • a new five-point business energy savings plan to give small businesses the tools they need to conserve energy, manage costs and save money.
  • helping larger businesses that use the most energy to dramatically reduce their electricity costs on new projects.
Of course, these efforts to reduce energy use may well be swamped by removal of the Debt Retirement Charge from residential users’ electricity bills, after December 31, 2015. This will save a typical residential user an additional $70 per year but, in GallonLetter's opinion, may reduce householders' economic incentive for conservation. Additionally, the government is directing the Ontario Power Authority to run a new Industrial Energy Incentive program to accept applications from industry for discounted electricity rates that can help create jobs. The new stream will make available up to four terawatt hours of electricity each year. There is no suggestion provided in the Budget that the program will include incentives for energy conservation.

In the field of environmental sustainability, the budget includes the following:

  • a new $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to help secure business investments in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, agri-food and agri-products, and information and communications technology.
  • Ontario’s agri-food sector will be one of the most innovative in the world. [So, Ontario residents, get ready for ‟innovative food"!]
While GallonLetter considers environmental spending to be a poor predictor of environmental performance, we cannot help but note the following numbers for environmental spending that are given in the Budget:

Ministry of the Environment
2011-12 $524 million
2012-13 $485 million
2013-14 $480.6 million (interim)
2014-15 $490.2 million (plan)

Ministry of Natural Resources
2011-12 $719 million
2012-13 $694 million
2013-14 $715 million
2014-15 $713 million

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.
GallonLetter will be watching the new government's Speech from the Throne on July 2 to see if the short shrift that environment is receiving in the Budget is remedied in that document. Commentary will be included in GallonDaily ( soon after July 2.


"Canada is in an enviable position with forests and agricultural lands that yield an abundance of biomass, and the skilled labour, research capabilities and education systems needed to support innovation and the growth of a new economy. However Canada has yet to turn those advantages into a successful bioproducts industry.", wrote lead author David Sparling, Professor in Agri-Food Innovations at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario and others in an analysis of the Statistics Canada bioproducts surveys in 2009. "One contributing factor appears to be the lack of a vision and plan to use these natural assets to Canada’s advantage. This lack of vision leaves the Canada vulnerable to others who can move quickly to seize its natural resources and turn them into value-added commodities and products that Canadians will ultimately buy as foreign-made goods."

Two trends are spurring bioproducts trends:
  • depletion of the supply of oil and the volatility of costs and prices for petroleum energy and
  • public interest in environmental sustainability which is an advantage for bioproducts.
Among the observations were:
  • The global industry is taking shape but Canada is stagnant.
  • Bioproducts exports declined, the steep rise of the cost of biomass also affected profit margins. Bioproducts R & D declined, a significant concern since the industry is still in early stages.
  • Canada's bioproducts industry is heavily weighted towards a single product, ethanol, which provides over 68% of bioproducts industry revenue.
  • While Statistics Canada focuses on the supply side, the demand side could be more crucial as informed buyers including industry and businesses, could transform the market.
"The survey results to 2009 can only be described as disappointing and suggest that somehow Canada is missing its potential in bioproducts. Policies for biofuels, particularly mandated biofuel content for transportation fuels, have allowed a handful of ethanol and biofuel companies to build their businesses on a combination of private investment and government grants and loans." While in other countries, these initiatives have led to further development of biochemicals, in Canada not much progress is being made.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


EU-funded research and innovation on the bioeconomy is seen as helping the European Community exit the current crisis, create jobs and improve the quality of life in Europe.

Complex and inter-connected challenges for Europe such as "unprecedented and unsustainable exploitation of its natural resources significant and potentially irreversible changes to its climate and a continued loss in biodiversity that threaten the stability of the living systems on which it depends" are the stakes identified in the 2012 communication of EU's biostrategy.

Transformations are needed in society and the economy in order to ensure the welfare and well-being of EU citizens and those of future generations. Changes in both consumption and production are needed. Among the focuses of the strategy are:
  • Ensuring food security: Food waste reduction is key as 90 million tonnes of food is lost annually in manufacturing and households not counting losses in agriculture and fisheries. More resource-efficient food supply chains are needed.
  • Managing resources sustainably: Biomass production in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture requires resources such as land, sea space, fertile and functioning soil, water and healthy ecosystems as well minerals and energy for fertilizers. The impact is often depletion and loss of ecosystem services. Research on ecosystem-based management will focus on how to produce more with less to ensure that declining biodiversity and habitats are protected. Because of the global nature of markets, global involvement is needed to address global challenges.
  • Reducing dependence on non-renewable resources: Includes research on renewable resources such as microalgae and waste.
  • Mitigating and adapting to climate change: More carbon sequestration in agricultural soil, seabeds and enhancement of forests. Encouraging pulp and paper, chemical and food industries to be more resource efficient and partially replace non-renewable products with bio-based ones.
The EU bioeconomy is estimated to be about Euro 2 trillion annually, account for 22 million jobs and 9% of the workforce. New employment opportunities are expected in transforming existing markets and creating new markets for biobased products. Building human capacity, knowledge and skills including universities developing bioeconomy curricula and vocational training schemes are intended to support the bioeconomy.

Product Standards and Sustainability Criteria

Clear product standards are to be developed to encourage consumers to buy these products and to foster green public procurement. With funding from the EU, a consortium of European-based research agencies, industry associations such as EuropaBio and European Bioplastics as well as US and UK research groups are on their way to develop certification and standards e.g. testing of biomass content, bio-based carbon content, biodegradability and functionality including comparing performance to conventional products. The standards are seen as necessary to ensure that biobased products meet sustainability goals. For example, one of the potential benefits of bioproducts for certain applications might be that they biodegrade, compost or are recyclable. Standards for testing make it easier for consumers, public procurement and private customers to buy these products knowing that they meet the standards. Plans for an ecolabel are also underway for biobased products.

Definition of Bioeconomy

For the EU Communication on the Bioeconomy (COM 2012 60) strategy, the bioeconomy is the ""production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products such as food, feed, biobased products and bioenergy".Industries included are agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. Biological resources specifically excluded are materials embedded in geological formations and fossilized. Areas of knowledge related to the bioeconomy include life sciences, agronomy, ecology, food science and social sciences, biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communication technologies (ICT), and engineering.

Bioeconomy Observatory

A Bioeconomy Information System Observatory (BISO) begun in March 2013 to run for three years after which BISO is supposed to be fully operational has been set up to provide information to the European Commission to assess progress and impact as well as tools for the bioeconomy. There are three pillars: Research & Innovation, Policy Interaction which includes stakeholder engagement and Markets & Competitiveness which has subpillars of economic impact and environmental sustainability.

Horizon 2020

BISO is intended to support the EU's Horizon 2020, said to be the biggest EU Research and Innovation ever, running from 2014 to 2020 (Euros 79 billion) to address societal challenges one of which is titled "Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research, and the Bioeconomy".

For the bio-based industries, the goal is to transition from fossil-based to low carbon, resource efficient sustainable bio-based processes and products, develop integrated biorefineries and open new markets for bio-based products. Reducing the EU's reliance on fossil resources will help to achieve goals for energy and climate change targets for 2020 and allow Europe to take leadership in markets while achieving food security, climate protection and sustainability.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


British Columbia is one of the provinces with bioeconomy goals. A 2012 report by the BC Bio-Economy Committee which was formed in July 2012 to advise the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation on opportunities of the emerging bio-economy. A snapshot report produced in 2012 explored what was going on elsewhere and in BC.

Among the observations are:
  • A key reason for moving towards bioeconomy is to finding ways to reduce use of fossil fuels and move towards renewable raw resources and energy sources. The Province's climate change goals are consistent with this.
  • Energy products are at the low end as higher value bioproducts are possible leading to a more diverse bio-economy. Instead of being a supplier of low value raw materials, the province can supply higher value bio-products
One example of an initiative elsewhere described was Ontario's BioAuto Council (Guelph, Ontario) with members including large Canadian auto parts companies with a goal to increase use of biofibres and biochemicals in the auto industry.

Some general principles mentioned are:
  • Competitiveness is reduced if the raw materials (biomass) are to be transported over large distances. This favours local medium sized facilities processing local biomass
  • It is unlikely that the new technology/product such as those sourced from forestry would be feasible on its own; rather it would depend on sharing harvesting and forest management with traditional forest operations. Some bioproducts would be economical only if they are made from the waste stream or provide benefit through waste avoidance.
Researching Bioeconomy
In outlining the research plan for estimates for the BC budget for 2014-15 for forestry, lands and natural resources, Minister Thomson said that research was to be integrated with six outcomes: the ecosystem stewardship, ecosystem health and disturbance, water, species and habitat, timber supply and the bioeconomy.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


When protests about red dye derived from cochineal insects were directed at Starbucks and others, Starbucks agreed to switch."Our expectation is to be fully transitioned to lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract, in the strawberry sauce (base) used in our Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie", wrote Cliff Burrows, President, Starbucks U.S., on his blog in April 2012. In the US, the company committed to avoiding the use of cochineal extract in all food and beverage offerings.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest continues to encourage consumers to take part in their petition to urge Dannon which continues to use carmine derived from cochineal insects in yoghurt. Since July 2013, the objective of 20,000 petitioners is short over 6,000. CSPI says the labelling of the dye isn't transparent enough as words like carmine or artificial colour should read "insect derived" so as to make it "easier for vegetarians, Jews who keep Kosher, or anyone otherwise averse to eating such ingredients to avoid it."

Cochineal Insects: Long History of Both Biobased Economic Value and Risks

According to a website on weeds in Australia (Northwest Weeds), probably in the late 1700s, a type of cactus (Opuntia stricta) was planted in Australia to begin a cochineal dye industry which at that time was controlled by Spain, which had a virtual monopoly. The Spaniards had brought the dyestuff from the Aztecs - the best red dye the world had ever seen but Spain kept the source extremely secret. Red dye of that quality was for the wealthy and powerful. Britain wanted to develop the industry in its dominion (think redcoats: bright red military uniforms and red robes for royalty).
The insects fed on prickly pear, covered themselves with a white coating and were then harvested and mashed to produce the dye which kept its colouring under trying conditions like heat, sun and sweat. Over time, it was the pear that expanded its range: settlers planted it as hedge row for a source of feed for stock during dry periods. By 1886, there was state legislation requiring the destruction of the pear because it was invading the countryside. Eradication methods even into the early part of 20th century were very bad for health and the environment. Boiling arsenic compounds and other toxic mixtures were used, some well into the 1970s. Emus were also killed because they ate the prickly pear fruit and hence distributed the seed. Success was achieved through biological control measures, one by a caterpillar and one by the cochineal insect. Since each cochineal insect lives only on a specific host, one had to collect a piece of the right pear species already infected in order to be sure of which insect to infect the pear with.

A letter to Nature, the science magazine, dated 1931, indicates that India experienced similar invasiveness and somewhat reluctantly imported cochineal insects to deal with the problem.

Mexico and South America are among the current providers of cochineal-based colouring.

Health Canada: Proposed Food Colour Labelling

In 2010, Health Canada posted a review of responses to its proposal to improve food colour labelling. HC proposed two options:
  • use an individual common name, the international number used by the Codex Alimentarius Commission or a numerical identifier such as the E number system used.
  • individual common name for all synthetic colours what do not occur in nature and that must undergo a certification process as well as natural colours cochineal, carmine and annatto. These three natural colours may cause allergic reaction but the scientific literature is weak. All other natural colours could be listed generically as "colour" or by their common name.
GallonLetter notes that while we would prefer no colour, we would probably choose the bug dye over some of those colours which have over time been identified as carcinogens but the point is also that people want to have the right to choose such as in the campaigns to have food containing products of biotechnology labelled. Current labelling not only for colours but other ingredient labels often obfuscates what is actually in the product. For example, another naturally sourced ingredient, monosodium glutamate or MSG, which many people seek to avoid is made from glutamic acid in sugar beets, wheat or corn. Glutamate is a common component of foods such as tomatoes and of more processed products such as cheese, hydrolysed vegetable protein, soy extract and other ingredients which are listed but not as MSG containing.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


The April 21, 2014 episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson led via a history of dating the age of the planet to the hazards of human dispersal of lead into the environment. The show also supported Tyson's hypothesis at least in this case that “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”

Clair Patterson was a scientist who set out to determine the age of the Earth, then commonly thought to be 3.3 billion years old; he determined it to be 4.5 billion years. His scientific achievement in this case was based on developing a whole new field of geochemistry using lead measurements of rock and sediment. While measuring lead in ocean sediments, he observed that human activity was polluting the environment, distributing lead at possibly dangerous levels. Later he published a study in 1963 with Mitsunobu Tatsumoto showing that deep ocean water contained 3 to 10 times less lead than surface water, where as for most other elements the deep ocean contained greater concentrations. This pointed to anthropogenic lead contamination. He collected data on lead from gasoline, solder, paint and pesticides and estimated that many Americans had lead blood levels which were 100 times higher than natural levels of lead, high enough to cause symptoms of lead poisoning. Industry commonly held that lead levels due to industry was no more than twice the natural levels a position represented by R.A. Kehoe, employed by a manufacturer using lead who in the Cosmos show identified himself as the expert on lead and dismissed Patterson out of hand. Their position was that lead levels were "normal".

Also in the show, one of the industry spokesperson said, "Lead is as natural as December snow."GallonLetter notes that this is one of the challenges of defining a sustainable bioeconomy: lots of compounds and products are "natural" and indeed may do relatively little harm in their natural setting but the situation changes when humans extract and disperse the same natural material in various forms and these then react with other compounds and with organisms which “eat” compounds. (see for example previous GallonLetter on US FTC decision on bamboozling the public where the FTC ruled that rayon made of bamboo is not natural because of the various chemical processing bamboo has to undergo to make the fabric.)

It took decades for the regulators to phase out lead in gasoline over the objections of industrial scientists. Patterson's work helped to identify lead from other sources such as food cans, foils, paints, and water distribution systems and he recommended that the US Environmental Protection Agency equip their laboratories better when they failed to reproduce his data. Apparently with his help, they did eventually reproduce his results. GallonLetter found it interesting that Patterson towards the end of his life contrasted science and engineering: he thought engineering training was responsible for the lead pollution while the scientific training called for the removal of industrial lead from all aspects of the environment.

Inevitably the Cosmos show has to select what will be discussed but this particular show was excellent in showing that scientific discoveries are often made while studying something else. There was also a strong message that industry has some big hitters to present compounds dispersed and creating toxic effects as "natural" to prevent the truth from hurting their business while people and ecosystems are hurt for decades.

Tilton, George R. Clair Cameron Patterson. June 2, 1922 - December 5, 1995. The National Academies Press. 1998.

Isaacs, Colin. FTC: Natural Source Not Good Enough to Be Natural. Gallon Environment Letter. January 31, 2014.

goodreads. Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes (Author of Death by Black Hole).


"Want to build a biotechnology nation? Don't forget the people." begins a report by BioTalent, an organization based in Ottawa focussing on human resources for the industry in the bioeconomy. The "industry" is described in four broad categories with subcategories. In addition, some of the subcategories span other categories. Examples are:

  • Nutraceuticals
  • Biopharmaceuticals
  • Medical Devices
  • Natural Compound bioactives
  • Functional Foods which spans into the agribiotech category
  • animal nutritional supplements
  • plant and animal genetics
  • livestock vaccines
  • agri-fibre composites which spans into the bioindustrial category
  • biomolecules spanning into biohealth
  • biodiesel
  • ethanol
  • methane
  • biooil
  • bioadhesives
  • biocatalysts
  • biocoatings
  • biosolvents
  • bioplastics

An industry seal of approval called BioReady(TM) for individuals working in Canada's bioeconomy has been developed through the BioSkills Recognition Program under the auspices of BioTalent Canada and its BioReady Review Board. Among the areas considered to be in the bioeconomy occupations are:
  • animal care
  • biofuels
  • bioinformatics
  • biostatistics
  • chemical engineering
  • clinical research
  • manufacturing
  • finances
  • materials management
  • pharmacology
  • production engineering, scheduling and planning
  • government relations
  • instrument and machine operation
  • maintenance
  • technical support
BioTalent's Board of Directors includes among others:
  • François Schubert (Chair) General Manager, Administration, The Research Institute-McGill University Health Centre Montréal, QC
  • Norma K. Biln (Vice Chair) Chief Executive Officer Augurex Life Sciences Corp. North Vancouver, BC
  • Patrick Girouard Coordinator, Renewable Energy La Coop fédérée Ottawa, ON
Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


FPInnovations announced, in December 2013 and with paper manufacturer Kruger Inc., that a demonstration plant for making cellulose filament was planned at the company's Trois-Rivières, Québec paper mill with Government of Quebec and Natural Resources Canada funding and other investment. The wood based biomaterial, CF is thought to have other applications where strength, light weight and flexibility can add value. Examples are flexible packaging, films, and possibly structural and non-structural panels in construction. The manufacture of the CF by Kruger is said to be "chemical-free", using wood fibres and energy to produce minimal environmental impact and it is hoped that the demonstration plant will be scaled up to commercial level.

CF to Strengthen Recycled Cardboard

When old corrugated cardboard OCC is recycled it is not as strong as if made from virgin material. A cardboard box stored in a warehouse may not always be handled under ideal conditions e.g. stacking or humidity level which may cause box failure. Trials for technology to make Cellulose Filaments CF added at the rate of 5% with other additives to recycled OCC pulp was done with support of FPInnovations, a large private, non-profit research centre working in forest research in Canada along with BASF, the Quebec government and Natural Resources Canada. The CF improved the strength of the box, increased barrier properties e.g. against moisture, oil and grease and reduced the weight. Some additional chemicals were required to offset the fact that the CF reduced pulp drainage but CF improved the performance of other chemical additives.

GallonLetter notes that this article illustrates that production of bioproducts often apply new technology e.g. nanotechnology as well as different chemicals and processing which may provide both environmental benefits and risks whether in the biomaterial itself or the associated materials and processes. One of the critical issues as always is that the entities which experience the benefits may be different than ones exposed to the risks.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


From the 1950s on, there were reports of kidney disease in certain communities in southeastern Europe. By 1966, the British medical journal The Lancet described the situation as a "a big health problem."

Women suffering from kidney failure in Belgium in the 1990s were found to have in common taking a herbal medicine from China to lose weight. Other cases in other countries followed the same pattern with many of the women also developing cancer. The herbal medicine contained a plant with aristolochic acid which causes the kidney failure named aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN) and was listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The discovery eventually led to confirmation in 2012 of a Serbian journal report published in 1969 that the same type of kidney disease in the Balkans was also due to a plant containing AA, Aristolochia clematitis, a weed that grows next to the cultivated wheat fields.

In 2013, a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that although many countries have banned the herbs, these continue to be sold in Asia with possibly thousands of cases undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Lead author Professor Graham Lord said in the press release that "We have found evidence that many millions of people continue to be exposed to significant health risk due to these herbal medicines, widely used in China and India."

GallonLetter notes that the Mayo Clinic which we tend to go to as a first step for information for conventional medical issues provides suggestions about home remedies and alternative medicine tips along with its conventional medical treatments and has published books on the subject of home remedies. Some have criticized this as junk science but supporters of herbal and other plant based products say that herbal medicines have injured fewer people than approved drugs. Whatever the truth of the matter, increasing evidence is that many of this supplements don't contain the active ingredient they are supposed to, have little supporting evidence of efficacy, contain other ingredients which may cause harm, that there are environmental impacts e.g. due to collection of raw material sometimes threatening endangered habitats and species, and that often patients don't tell their doctor what they are taking even though there may be interactions between conventional drugs and supplements. We suggest that people ought also to think about interactions between “natural remedies”: if one reads the Dr. Oz newspaper columns or monthly “natural health” magazines, it is rare that there isn’t a supplement recommended to buy every week: in a year that could be 52 different alternate medicinal items to swallow. Even one or two interactions could be a dangerous mashup.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


A growing number of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke which account for 60% of deaths in the world are due to corporations putting profit taking ahead of human well-being, writes Nicholas Freudenberg, distinguished professor at the City University of New York's School of Public Health. Although Freudenberg doesn't mention bioproducts per se, his list of six industries which he sees as marketing unhealthy products (alcohol, automobile, firearms, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and tobacco) which "account for the lion's share of global health outcomes" have a large portion using biobased materials e.g. crops as a base.

He describes what he calls a corporate-consumption complex with a global reach and the sole aim to increase profits by promoting hyperconsumption. For example, in a detailed profile of McDonald's as an example, advertising has led to the acceptance that breakfast should be a fast food meal, and recent promotion focuses on adding a fourth fast food meal late in the evening. Although advertising to children is said by the American Academy of Pediatrics to be inherently deceptive and exploitative when targeted to children under 8 years old, McDonald's involvement in toy distribution is described as marketing to children.

The corporate dominance is present also in relation to elected officials and bureaucracy of the political system where many corporation have a seat at the table of committees and decision-making. It is a web of organizations starting with a few very large multinational corporations and linked to those producing the goods, the retail system, the trade associations, banks, hedge funds and investment funds, law firms, university researchers advertising, lobbying and public relation firms. In very few cases, do these corporations ever have to pay for the adverse health effects. Marketing if there is negative publicity usually focuses on the idea that it is the consumer who is responsible for their individual behaviour (e.g. for example a fast food company might offer a salad so if consumers buy many more burgers, it can't be the company's fault) or that the company is in compliance with government regulations (which the corporate network helped to write often using industrial scientists, although that isn't advertised). Investors requiring a fast return on investment are said to lead to short-termism which is accelerating income inequality, environmental degradation, and accelerated climate change.

Freudenberg says these companies have vastly more political power and information than the consumer so the traditional idea of a free market no longer exists. He writes that "These dynamics distort the market in favour of health-imperiling products" but remains optimistic that the solutions are not insurmountable because Americans understand "the need to restore the balance between government and business constitutes the public health priority of our time."

Temporary Workers and McDonald's Canada

A leaked transcript of the CEO of McDonald's Canada, John Betts, in a conference call in April 2014 with franchisees, demonstrates the cosy relationship between government and corporation that Freudenberg deplores. A strong focus of the conference call is the mutual benefit arising from company's political astuteness in building a relationship with Employment Minister Jason Kenney who faced the heat on this program even not counting McDonald's franchises specific practices, "They need to see us as partners in this as a brand that can help them make some progress on this and at the same time give us an opportunity to clean ourselves up."

Nevertheless, GallonLetter thinks that the us-them (big companies/big government) categorization puts people/consumers/taxpayers/voters/citizens as being entirely under the influence of marketing. In reality there are much greater linkages as people work for these companies, invest directly or through their pension, choose to buy their products because they like them and vote for the politicians who choose economic above other important aspects of society such as environment and health. Even if the article seems a bit unbalanced in casting people as helpless pawns, Freudenberg's call that the problem while complex is not insurmountable so action can be taken to protect human well-being is being repeated by other voices.

As an aside, GallonLetter's editor thinks that Betts was caught out by a faulty assumption: the assumption that he was speaking to an audience which was on his side and believed what he believed. Somebody leaked that tape. Time and time again, we have heard corporate officials make statements at conferences, conference calls, at receptions, event dining tables and at the bar believing the same thing only to find that their words are judged differently than they thought.

Freudenberg, Nicholas. Insatiable: Sizing Up the Corporate Consumption Complex. The American Interest. Vol. 9 No. 4. Spring (March/April) 2014. [abstract only. Full copy as paid subscription or individual print copy]

CBC News. Exclusive: McDonald's Canada CEO calls foreign worker controversy 'bullshit'. In a recording of a conference call to franchisees, CEO John Betts rails against CBC stories.
Posted: Apr 24, 2014 6:33 PM PT| Last Updated: Apr 25, 2014 6:45 AM PT.


Design gurus and principals of the company providing Cradle to Cradle certification, William McDonough and Michael Braungart's new book The Upcycle is more a philosophical guide about thinking creatively about solving problems of sustainability, "don't be pessimistic about the future, the glass is half full not half empty" than a technical how-to which probably would have had an index which this book doesn't. If the book serves as inspiration to, as former US President Bill Clinton suggests in his forward, "Let's get to work", that's all to the good but there are times when the authors jump from start to finish leading to conclusions such as defining a material as non-toxic or non-hazardous without giving enough detail for GallonLetter to judge how they got there; it makes the advice book gives more art than science although the book can lead one to check the web sites of the products and companies discussed for that much needed detail (see below for Steelcase's Think Chair)

The Book as an Example of Upcycling

The authors describe their own book as "close to as is currently possible to being fully optimized as a biological nutrient - a thing designed not only to do no harm but to be reintroduced into the environment in a beneficial manner." Examples include:
  • the paper is Sustainable Forestry Initiative Chain of Custody certified.
  • the company Glatfelter making the paper used 50% biomass for energy.
  • the virgin paper has no optical brighteners or added chlorine bleach
  • the cover is made of a NatureWorks Ingeo (TM) biopolymer (made from plants not petroleum) which is certified by the author's company to be Cradle to Cradle Certified (CM) Silver. The manufacturing process uses 60% less greenhouse gas emissions and 50% less non-renewable energy than conventional plastic like PET or polystyrene and is said to contain "no ingredients of concern to human or environmental health."
  • the inks were assessed to meet the goal of "optimizing ingredients to be biological nutrient."
  • the adhesive has no "problematic intentional inputs."
By presenting a plastic cover and non-recycled paper as optimized book design, the authors have certainly challenged commonly held views.

The Think Chair

The discussion on the development of the Think Chair by the office manufacturer Steelcase put on the market in 2006 illustrates some of the details of challenges of designing for the environment. After a series of lifecycle analysis on the chair, PVC was swapped out because of its release of toxic gases when burned to be replaced by thermoplastic polyurethane which is said to be "a nontoxic substance of equal performance." Without PVC, the LCA showed an increase in energy use to make the chair. Steelcase chose to accept the higher energy for lower toxic material which the authors laud as the right decision because the energy demand could be met with renewable energy but to detoxify would be difficult. The chair can be disassembled in a few minutes for reuse and recycling although this would probably have to be through specialized services in Canada as most municipalities do not recycle a lot besides food packaging. The Think Chair was the first product to receive Cradle to Cradle certification (1).

(1) Cradle to Cradle™ Product Certification from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) [or go to Certifications  and find Click here to download C2C certificates.]

McDonough, William and Michael Braungart. The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance. New York, NY: North Point Press, 2013.


The Steelcase web site has details about the Think ergonomic chair (see article on upcycling) which was assessed in early 2004 for its entire life cycle with the functional unit defined as “Provision of comfortable office seating – with the features stated in the product description – for an average person (99 – 243 lbs.) for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week over a period of 15 years.” Of the total weight of chair of 15.1 kg (33.3 lbs.) including packaging, nearly half (48%) is plastic including packaging according to the Environmental Product Declaration. The 14 page guide on how to disassemble it identifies the various types of plastic as well as other materials such as fabric, steel, aluminum and rubber including: polyester for the seat back, urethane foam for the seat. polypropylene for head rest, LDPE is used for packaging. Despite the recycling potential, the life cycle assessment indicated that based on North American averages, 99% of the products would be landfilled, 0% incinerated and 1% recycled. The ease of disassembly means the working life of the chair can be extended by replacing parts or adding features such as lumbar support.  44% of the chair is made up of recycled material, the foam is waterbased containing no CFC or HCFC . Suppliers ship using reusable totes to reduce packaging waste. The lightweight of the chair and shipping ready to assemble reduces packaging and allows more chairs per shipment.

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The concept of ergonomics means matching the job to the worker and the product to the user. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, buying a chair just because it has an "ergonomic" label is a mistake. While CCOHS does have specs for a good chair which includes adjustability, seat height adjustment, adjustable backrest, and stability, the most important issue is what suits the worker and the job being done. It may be that for some workers and situations, those fancy ergonomic chairs aren't needed.

One of our associates converted to a wooden chair, a plain dining room chair locally made even, and is a lot happier for it. Suffering from chronic hip inflammation and episodic repetitive stress syndrome in shoulders, wrists and arms from computer work seemed to be just an inevitable genetic arthritis shared with many family members, one of whom claimed to have three artificial knees as one knee surgery didn't work. Perhaps it is only that a wood chair is uncomfortable enough that one stands more often. Trading the comfy ergonomic multi-material office chair for a wood chair seems like an odd solution but even though we haven't studied the science (there may not even be any) it works and pain only returns when cushioned seating is the only alternative for a length of time

Although wood furniture and wood houses are seen as advantageous by some because wood acts as a carbon sink, some observers say so is plastic as it is made of oil and if it isn't incinerated, is even less likely to release carbon dioxide because it doesn't compost. Researchers are also seeking ways to create polymers with carbon dioxide as a feedstock which could also reduce greenhouse emissions from plastics production.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. What is an ergonomic chair?

Hughes, Elinor. Shortcut to carbon dioxide plastics holds sequestration promise. Chemistry World. 7 March 2014.


Selling Canadian wool on the international wool markets was a tough sell in 2012, improving only moderately in 2013, according to the Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers update in the fall of 2013. The co-op grades and markets about 3 million pounds of raw wool annually most from Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Major buyers of Canadian wool are China and the US. China, the biggest market for raw wool, is changing as the government aims to turn from exporting cheap goods to supply a growing domestic market and to transition to restructured industry with upgraded facilities, new technologies and improved environmental performance including energy conservation and emissions reductions.

Canadian wool growers attended China-based international conferences such as the 25th China International Wool Trade Fair held in September 2013. While demand for wool is a critical factor, the industry was urged by the president of the Nanjing Wool Market also to create demand and to grow it. The wool textile industry in China has environmental problems due to failing to meet standards for release of pollutants discharged to water. Pollutants include textile dyeing and finishing chemicals.

Improving Wool Quality

Many factors affect the grade and whether the raw wool is accepted at all. The breed of the sheep, husbandry, nutrition, and how the sheep is sheared are factors which can affect the condition of the fleece. Shearing sheep before lambing or reducing stress results in a longer stronger fibre as stress such as lambing can cause breaks or weak points in the strands. Cleaner and less matted fleece can result from keeping sheep away from sleeping on the manure pile and feeding methods. Sheep fed from round haybale feeders tend to look up and around, spilling the hay dust on the sheep feeding next to them. One of the most common cause of wool rejects is contamination by vegetable matter such as chaff (e.g. hay dust) and burs. Stains such as urine or indeed anything that is difficult to remove and interferes with achieving a white colour can cause down grading. Care in sorting and packaging to keep the dirty/inferior wool from the good wool also affects the grade.

"Most of our better or finer wool comes from out west" said Jim McNeely, the wool superintendent at CCWG in a recent article in Ontario Farmer. The "good stuff" he was grading came from a southern Alberta Hutterite colony (a communal religious group). The ewe was from the dry area of the Prairies, not penned in, grazing on natural fields of grass most of the summer which leads to cleaner wool especially as the sheep aren't dropping feed on each other. Because of the breed and the cold winters, the wool weighs twice as much as most wool from Ontario. The Hutterites are a well-organized technically skilled community with readily accessible labour so the packaging of the wool is excellent as well. Wool meeting this kind of grading fetches prices of $1.60-2.30 a pound, according to the article, much more than the 0.60-0.75 cents a pound for grades achieved by Ontario wool.

Markets for natural fibre in Canada have grown over the years with small mills across the country, a growing number of fibre artists and a new generation interested in knitting.

Perhaps as an illustration that bio-based and synthetic can each play a useful role in a sustainable society, GallonLetter's editor's home has a beautiful star-design quilt, still in use every winter, made by a family member in Alberta probably in the 1950s or early 1960s. The inside is wool, bought in bulk from an Alberta farmer; the wool was then handwashed and handcarded (brushes with lots of short metal points were pulled through the wool to untangle, smooth and size each piece) by the family but the outside material holding this natural fibre was remnants from brightly coloured scrapped dresses made from synthetic material, polyester, which had only relatively recently at that time become a popular material for apparel. It is probably the sturdy polyester which is giving the quilt its long life, the wool which provides the warmth but it is the artistic leanings and sewing skills of a long departed family member which gives the quilt a special meaning.

Ford, Ray. In this job, getting fleeced is a good thing. Ontario Farmer. April 15, 2014. p B16 [print]

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One of the things that environmentalists, biologists, farmers, politicians and almost everybody else seem to agree on is a long list of plants and animals that are considered alien and invasive and ought to be eradicated as fast as possible. In fact, in the United Nations biodiversity conference website, there is an estimate that invasive species globally number into the tens to hundreds of thousands. GallonLetter's editor has ruminated about an over emphasis on controlling "weeds" without equal attention at least to conserving natural habitat here in southwestern Ontario where natural areas are being built on, mowed to within a centimetre, or rooted up with bulldozers to make every square metre of farm land into crop land right to the boundary line and including even removal off trees and hedgerows on the public roadways edging the farm fields.

So it is not surprising that it has taken so long for Ontario even to consider removal of a plant key to the survival of the Monarch butterfly, milkweed, from the Noxious Weed schedule of the provincial Ontario Weed Control Act.. The decision to remove milkweed was posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry May 9, 2014. Most of the comments on the Environmental Bill of Rights were supportive of the removal of the milkweed listing but GallonLetter thinks that the main point is still being missed. All animals need infrastructure: the adults migrate to Mexico and California to use the same trees to overwinter year after year (although these trees too are being cut). So while the milkweed is food for the caterpillar, the butterfly uses other plants e.g. flowers for nectar for the adults, shelter from predators and the weather and those trees for overwintering elsewhere. Even if milkweed is removed from the Ontario noxious weed list, as long as other weeds numbering nearly 25 continue to be listed, not only milkweed but the natural infrastructure is in just as much risk of depletion as before, in our unscientific opinion.

The Act itself gives very broad enforcement power with high costs for the landowner failing to comply and is sporadically and indiscriminatorily applied often it seems based on complaints usually from fighting neighbours rather than on any real plan to control invasive species. We suspect the municipality itself would go bankrupt if it conformed as listed plants line the roadways and public areas in a lot of places at different seasons. The natural ecology especially here in southwestern Ontario where natural areas seem to be disappearing before our eyes would be devastated with the provision "every person in possession of land shall destroy all noxious weeds on it."

Despite the fact that the government for whom the weed inspector works has land with the same noxious weeds on it, a weed inspector can order any landowner to get rid of these weeds. Generally the only option will be mowing a wide swath of land (50 feet) bordering a neighbour's farm or applying herbicides: pulling weeds on a few acres is offered as an option to the landowner but is an impossible task. The dates for municipal weed notices usually begin in late June/early July so mowing or spraying a natural area will affect some species negatively including nests or fledglings of endangered species such as bobolinks but the priority of the enforcement is getting rid of those weeds on that particular landowner's land. Even if milkweed were no longer on the list, in the process of clearing another listed weed on the weed inspector's order, milkweed would likely be destroyed in the process as well as other habitat key to Monarchs and other butterflies, small animals, and birds. Businesses with natural habitat are also likely to have a program of regular mowing to conform to the law and the aversion to "weeds". As one of our local auctioneer said, "I like things neat and tidy."

Side Effects of Invasive Species Control

The side effects of invasive species control were identified as causing unintended damage to native species and ecosystems in a recent issue of Science in two articles, one a perspective and one a study. Discussion explored how invasive species provide ecological functions to native species and how rapid removal of the invasive can harm endangered species which use the invader as a resource. A specific example is of a program to get rid of an invasive cordgrass in California which resulted in an associated decline of an endangered species, the California clapper rail, which uses grass habitat for nesting in the San Francisco Bay area. The biologists identified the need to develop a management plan to restore the natural habitat so that when the invader grass was controlled, there would be something to replace it for the use of the birds. Invaders may also provide other resources such as fruit to native fruit-eating bats, birds and mammals. Removal of some invaders may leave space for other worse invaders or damaging predators.

GallonLetter notes that one of goals of the newly elected Liberal government in Ontario is related to targets for biodiversity (1) and hopes that some consideration will be given to the advice in Science, regarding "the integration of invasive species management with broader ecosystem goals." Population reduction of the invader species should not be the sole measure. Under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, if the listing of milkweed is an indicator, the listing of "weeds" in the first place may fail to adequately take ecological value of species not only of milkweed into account.

Note (1) Meeting the 2020 target date for protecting 17% of Southern Ontario's land base through protected areas and conservation stewardship arrangements as called for in the province's Biodiversity Strategy.

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Using the new Global Reporting Initiative G4 Sustainability Reporting Framework, Canada's Export Development Canada export credit agency, which provides financing, insurance and bonding services for Canadian exporters, issued its 9th annual CSR Report. EDC's goals are aligned with the Government of Canada's priorities as it reports to the Minister of International Trade and activities as outlined in the Minister's Statement of Priorities & Accountabilities for promoting Canada's global commerce agenda which includes:
  • the new Global Markets Action Plan with a target to increase Canada's small- and medium-sized enterprise presence in emerging markets by 50% by 2018. Only about 4 per cent (about 41,000 SMEs) of more than 1 million SMEs in Canada which account for 98 per cent of Canada's businesses are exporting and mostly to the US (about 77% of exports go to the US).
  • focus on priority markets such as India, Indonesia and Singapore.
A couple among the SMEs highlighted include:
  • Theriault & Hachey Peat Moss based in New Brunswick which harvests and processes peat moss for horticulture and mushroom growing. Peat moss is exported to Japan, the US, Puerto Rico, Australia and Europe.
  • OMG'S based in Manitoba makes chocolate candy clusters which won the investment of Arlene Dickinson on Dragons' Den but on winning a contract for Sam's Club in the US needed $1.5 million financing to fill the big order.
In addition to financing, EDC also works with exporters and financial institutions on environmental and social issues. Examples include:
  • Avoiding corruption by helping exporters improve due diligence and anti-corruption programs.
  • Work to revise the Equator Principles released in 2013 in order to help financial institutions review the environmental and social impacts of large infrastructure projects.
  • The first Green Bond was launched by EDC on January 23, 2014, a USD 300 million, 3 year global offering to support financing of environmental-related business including remediation of air, water or soil and climate change mitigation.
Canada. Export Development Canada. Export Development Canada issues Annual CSR Report. News Release. Ottawa, Ontario: June 10, 2014. and web page for report Where Opportunities meets best practices: Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2013.


Many sustainability reporting organizations use the Global Reporting Initiative for standard disclosure of four key areas of performance and impacts, economic, environmental, social and governance, itemized in a list of general and specific topics. The GRI index often published as a separate web report by the company, also includes such details as:
  • whether on that topic disclosure is fully, partially or not reported.
  • where disclosure information is found e.g. specific page of a report, url or other source.
  • if partially disclosed, which specific data points have not been reported and a reason for the omission.
While GRI provides the framework for reporting, GRI doesn't provide any auditing, verification, certification or assurance about the reports although it recommends external assurance. As noted in the article on EDC's CSR report (see separate article), revisions to the GRI are now at G4. The web site provides detail charts of the changes. Companies newly reporting are advised to use the new G4 Guidelines and those using GRI 3 and GRI 3.1 should move to G4 Guidelines after 31 December 2015. GRI aspires to be an accepted standard for public procurement and other purposes and is undergoing consultation for proposed changes to its governance.
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As more companies market based on plant based ingredients, whether the claims are merely creativity in marketing or potentially confusing to consumers and purchasers is yet to be determined. As well as any inherent hazard, mishandling by the user who is lulled into thinking by the plant-based claim into thinking that they don't have to worry about following instructions for use including disposal could also cause harm to health and the environment. Among the reasons why just the claim of plant ingredients might need to be evaluated include:
  • the plant ingredient may be only one of several and the other ingredients may represent hazards
  • the plant ingredient may not be a safe as claimed
  • the concentration of the plant ingredient may affect the hazard
For example, Benefect, a company in Hamilton which sells cleaners and disinfectant products under the consumer brand Clean Well based in San Francisco was featured in an "Entrepreneur Week" section of the Hamilton Spectator. President Sam DeAth said that other bigger companies were making the same claims as his company was so they settled on "Authentically botanical" as their branding.

One of the material safety date sheets for a Benefect disinfectant product (not the Hamilton manufacturer) has less than 1% concentration of a single ingredient thyme oil which is listed in the MSDS with few hazards. MSDSs by other chemical companies list thyme oil in its more concentrated form as having hazards such as corrosive liquid, warning among other things of "An environmental hazard cannot be excluded in the event of unprofessional handling or disposal." and "Harmful to aquatic life"

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Sustainable Consumption and Production was one of priority areas of the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in 2012, twenty years after the first conference held in 1992. A discussion paper issued in June 2014 with coauthors from the Canada-based IISD reviews the scientific basis for proposed SCP targets and indicators as well as suggesting approaches to specific targets for countries differing in their development status. As nations review the set of Sustainable Development Goals SDGs, some want SCP to be a distinct goal of the SDGs rather than a crosscutting issue integrated into multiple goals. The paper suggests that both consumption and production and both developed and developing countries be addressed in the future SDGs. Consumption tends to be underrepresented in discussions and negotiations

Biomass Consumption and Production

Increased demand for biomass combines with other factors pressuring natural areas such as expansion of cities, mining and energy related activities, and conversion of natural areas to grazing due to more changing diets in developing countries towards more meat. Large areas of land have degraded soils and less water available. More land restoration and improvements to soil viability are needed. More efficient use of biomass is necessary including more vegetable rather than meat diets, less demand for biofuels, and less waste in crops including food.

Among the potential targets for a global SCP and related measures are some key to bioenergy and bioproducts which rely on biomass, which requires land, water, and energy. Examples include:
  • Target: Limit global cropland to 0.2 hectares per capita. Measures: Domestic extraction of biomass, Biomass footprint of consumption, crop biomass, livestock fodder, feedstock for biofuels
  • Target: Reduce overall water footprint per capita and per unit of GDP in developed nations by 25% by 2030 and increase water efficiency use efficiency in developing nations by 25 per cent by 2030 over 2000 levels. Measures (some selected from list): Water footprint per capita (m3/capita), per unit of GDP ($/m3), water footprint - direct and indirect water use of a consumer or a producer across the whole supply chain.
  • Target: Reduce year on year, the water footprint per unit of output in sectors which consume the most fresh water taking account of global supply chains. Example: agriculture for food, fibre. Measure: Cubic metres of fresh water consumed per unit of output e.g. agriculture water withdrawals
  • Target: halt the expansion of global cropland into grasslands, savannahs and forests by 2020 below a global net cropland area of 1,640 Mha. Measures include global net cropland area, conversion of land to agricultural and other uses, rates of land use change between land-use types, area of cropland per person
  • Target: reduce deforestation to zero by 2030. Increase reforestation and afforestation. Measures: annual change in forest area
GallonLetter concludes from the discussion paper that it is as important to consider sustainability in consumption and production of biobased goods as in any other goods and that material efficiency is essential to reduce the demand for ever expanding cropland at the expense of natural areas.

United Nations Environment Programme. Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Targets and Indicators and the SDGs: UNEP Post-2015 Discussion Paper 2. Written by: Livia Bizikova (IISD), Heinz Schandl (CSIRO), László Pintér (CEU and IISD), Kate Offerdahl (IISD), with inputs from Gabriel A. Huppé, Dora Almassy, Tilmann Liebert, Charles Thrift, Ingeborg Niestroy and Scott Vaughan (IISD). June 2014.
[Note: International Institute for Sustainable Development IISD is based in Canada (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is Australia's national science agency. SDGs are Sustainable Development Goals.]


Dr. Bill Patton, Professor and Chair of Biology at Brandon University, Manitoba wrote to say, "The first item in the May 14, 2014 issue raises the issue of the importance of the process of photosynthesis in our survival on the planet. Although nuclear explosions are unlikely to “kill off the green cells in the sea” UV-B radiation has the potential to destroy that important carbon sink in the world’s oceans adding yet another accelerator to the climate change scenario. DNA is one of the major targets for solar UVR-induced damage in a variety of organisms including bacteria, cyanobacteria and phytoplankton (Hader and Sindha,2005). Photosynthesis in several higher plants has also been shown to be negatively impacted by increasing UV-B radiation."

GallonLetter refers readers to a short factsheet on ultraviolet-B radiation and ozone depletion at British Columbia. The Impacts of Ozone Depletion. 


If you enjoy Gallon Environment Letter or find it useful for your work or interests, may we recommend the GallonDaily report. Found at , GallonDaily provides short articles and reports on topics of particular interest to green businesses. One article appears almost every day Monday to Friday - we recommend visiting at least once a week. Our real enthusiasts can also sign up for email notification as new articles are posted.
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  • New study indicates that pollution may be the worlds biggest killer
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