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The fossil fuel divestment campaign won a major victory today as Stanford University announced it would drop coal companies from its massive $18.7 billion endowment, the fourth largest of any American university. The action follows a petition by student group Fossil Free Stanford, five months of research by Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, and finally a vote by the Board of Trustees.

“The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”
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David Reyes plunges his hand into a black smelly liquid at the bottom of a cut-off plastic jug tied around a palm tree and pulls out a dead horned beetle. “We used to put insecticide on the bottom of these traps,” says Reyes, the agricultural manager of Hondupalma – a cooperative of small landowners in Honduras that produces palm oil. “Now we simply use alcohol with sugar cane molasses to kill off the bugs.” According to Reyes, these new measures saved the co-op $175,000 in pesticide costs over the past two years.
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Brazil wants to place a ban on Monsanto and get rid of genetically modified organisms. In a historic ruling March 13, Brazil’s Federal Appeal Court canceled its contract with biotechnology giant Bayer (read Setting the Record Straight On Bayer Crop Science) for the cultivation of genetically modified corn (better known as Liberty Link) in its North and Northeast regions, where risk assessment studies were not conducted.

Monsanto’s Roundup may get phased out. The move signifies a politically complex stance on GMOs from the world’s second largest producer of genetically modified organisms.
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Safeway has become the latest company to establish a policy that excludes deforestation-linked palm oil from its products.

Safeway Inc. (NYSE: SWY), the second biggest U.S. grocery chain, made the commitment in response to a shareholder proposal by the New York State Common Retirement Fund. In exchange for the fund withdrawing its sustainable palm oil shareholder proposal, Safeway will ask its suppliers to implement social and environmental criteria that ensure the palm oil it uses in branded products is “free of deforestation, free of expansion on carbon–rich peat lands, not developed or expanded on illegal or customary use lands without the free, prior and informed consent of local communities and free of human rights violations including forced and child labor, human trafficking and poor working conditions,” according to a statement from New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who has led the shareholder activist campaign.

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Menendez, who lives in Barcelona, is setting up an alternative data brokerage called The GoodData. It’s a co-operative owned by its members–the people providing data–and it’s designed to do good. Instead of selling information to make a profit for itself or its members, it plans to send proceeds to Kiva, a nonprofit that facilitates peer-to-peer lending in the developing world.

“Data is a new source of wealth, the same way there was agriculture, oil, and machinery,” Menendez says. “You lose control of that data now. My thought was to create a company that helps us enjoy the ownership of that data.”
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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Three of China’s biggest cities are helping consumers pay for a range of electric cars, heeding calls to encourage the sale of green vehicles that the government sees helping tackle pollution.

China’s smoggy skies topped the agenda at the annual parliamentary session this year, while Premier Li Keqiang in January demonstrated the importance of green cars by visiting a factory of BYD Co Ltd , maker of the e6 pure electric car.

The government wants to put 10 times more e-cars on the road by next year but traffic management is under the remit of local authorities, and many cities including the polluted capital of Beijing have not had the framework to deem the vehicles roadworthy.

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Finance heads from the 20 largest economies have wrapped up a two-day conference in Sydney, Australia with an agreement to implement policies that will boost world GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by two percent over five years.

An unusually brief two-page statement issued Sunday vowed to drive a return to strong, sustainable and balanced growth in the global economy.

However, the statement also expressed “deep regret” that International Monetary Fund reforms to give more say to emerging market economies had been blocked by the U.S. Congress.
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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s top legal body has strengthened consumer rights in the country after it revised the nation’s Consumer Protection Law on Friday, the first major overhaul in two decades.

The revisions increase consumer powers, add rules for the booming Internet shopping sector and stiffen punishments for businesses that mislead shoppers.

Chinese regulators have been cracking down on real or perceived corporate wrongdoing, with domestic and international infant formula makers and drugmakers particularly coming under the spotlight this year.

Global firms like Apple Inc and Starbucks Corp have also been getting caught in the glare, while South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, the world’s largest smartphone maker, had to apologise to Chinese customers on Thursday after a broadcast on China Central Television criticised company repair policies.

China is also trying to stimulate domestic consumer spending as it attempts to transition from an investment-led economy to a more consumption-driven model. But domestic consumers are often wary of product safety and quality, with 3.8 billion yuan (385.24 million pounds) worth of poor quality goods sold in China between 2010 and 2012, according to the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC).

‘Strengthening consumer confidence will benefit the whole nation’s economic development and boost domestic demand,’ Jia Dongming, director of the civil law working committee under China’s Standing Committee, said at a press briefing to announce the changes to the law.

The amendments to the 1993 law include increasing compensation for consumers and raising fines for retailers who violate the law, including in cases where faulty products lead to consumers being harmed or killed. Compensation rose from equalling the amount of damages to three times the amount.

China will also strengthen the role of the China Consumers’ Association, which will be able to represent groups of consumers in any wider class actions against retailers.

Officials also stressed the growing importance of protecting consumers in China’s booming online shopping sector, which has expanded rapidly with the rise of market leader Alibaba’s Taobao, Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s Yihaodian and 360Buy.com.

Internet sales have risen almost 50-fold since 2006 to hit 1.3 trillion yuan ($213.75 billion) in 2012, according to Jia, while analysts predict e-commerce will account for a fifth of total retail sales in China within five years.

The law will make it easier for consumers to return goods bought online, while sellers will bear the burden of proof in any disputes. Online retailers will also have to meet strict privacy requirements, including requesting users’ permission to use any personal data.

‘The make-up and challenges of the consumer sector has completely changed and so the law has had to adapt for the times,’ said Jia.

($1 = 6.0820 Chinese yuan)

Thanks to
Adam Jourdan for this story

(Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Matt Driskill)

Visit Reuters here

BARCELONA — Spain is known for three-hour, Michelin-starred meals with bottles of vino, often accompanied by the sounds of live flamenco. While the luxury and tourism industries are still flourishing with expats, the recession has pulled the bottom out of local hospitality. From El Bulli to traditional tapas places, 12,000 Spanish bars and restaurants closed in the last three years alone. While the most well-known and unknown faces of Spain’s greatest attraction are struggling to survive, the recession has seen a rapid rise of restaurant chains that look to maintain the Castilian food tradition at a much lower price.

100 Montaditos, named after its menu of four-inch sandwiches, first opened in the south of Spain in 2000. The “mono-price + mono-product” system started out aiming to sell 100 different options for 100 pesetas each. The chain has seen rapid growth, particularly since the economic crisis began in 2008, and it now has about 250 franchises in Spain, as well as about 20 more around the world, including ten in Miami. In 2010, the chains’ parent company Restalia also opened La Sureña, more of a raciones (plates of cured ham or cheese) and seafood discount chain with more than 70 spots across the peninsula.

Of course, with Spain in such an economic quagmire, Restalia may be the discount dining leaders, but they aren’t the only ones. Similar chains, like Copas Rotas, which serves a large vino and tapas menu for a euro apiece, have been popping up to serve up Spanish tradition especially to the 60 percent of youth who are unemployed.

SmartPlanet talked to one Barcelona barrio bar that started selling five mini bottles of booze plus a tapa for 4€, while there’s a Madrid bar that offers two-for-one drinks to those that show their paro (unemployment) slip. As more and more bars and restaurants are dropping their bottom line, the discount chains are going even lower, with 100 Montaditos taking the discount food race to the next level last year by introducing “Partimos en el euro,” offering Spanish patrons all their sandwiches for merely 50 cents each on Mondays.

Read the full story on SmartPlanet’s website here

When local marine fish farming company Aquagrow Corporation Sdn Bhd was setting up in 2008, it received only one Malaysian applicant to join the company.

In Malaysia, fish farming is still perceived as a small-scale rural activity, says its CEO Mohd Razali Mohamed.

“What many don’t realise is that aquaculture (fish farming) is now a RM380bil global industry with some 160 million tonnes of fish being traded all over the world each year. Fish production is already the biggest food production sector in the world – bigger even than chicken, beef, dairy or pork. And the pay is fantastic and is on par with other industries,” he says.

Crucially, aquaculture is becoming increasingly high tech, requiring extensive research and development to spur its growth, and experts in related specialisations from marine biologists to feed specialists, geneticists and food technologists.

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The resort island of Bali produces 890 metric tons of garbage every day. Imagine five blue whales or 222 elephants of pure trash washing up on the shores of Bali every 24 hours.

But rather than throw up their hands in defeat, a group of four die-hard environmentalists based in Sanur, 30 minutes from Ngurai Rai International Airport, banded together in 2012 and launched PlastikDetox, an educational effort to turn the tide on the island’s excessive use of plastic, which accounts for 10 percent to 12 percent of Bali’s trash.

To critics, the campaign might seem like a drop in the ocean. But PlastikDetox is determined all those drops will add up.
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