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The Ethics Of Soup: Grading Supermarket Shelves – For Profit

By David South

This Magazine (Canada), March-April, 1993

Where social activists have tried and failed to get Canadian corporations to change their behaviour towards the environment, labour, women and minorities, EthicScan Canada – a for-profit consulting and research firm – steps in.

Toronto-based EthicScan acts as a consultant on ethical issues to both government and private businesses and produces a guide for investors. Its latest project hit the bookstores last fall. The Ethical Shopper’s Guide to Supermarket Products rates products according to companies’ ethical performance. “EthicScan is the only company in Canada doing this,” says senior writer Joan Helsen. “Companies respond to us differently because we are – like them – a business. We have a very good reputation for doing strong research and presenting the facts.”

Non-profit groups have produced similar guides. In the US, perhaps the best known is the American Council on Economic Priorities’ Shopping for a Better World. Here in Canada, both Pollution Probe’s Green Consumer Guide and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s The Supermarket Tour offer educational information.

But The Ethical Shopper’s Guide is the first guide in Canada to give a product-by-product breakdown, and to detail the web of corporate ownership. It lists more than 1,200 brand-name products from baby food to soft drinks, with the manufacturer’s “grade” for each ethical category. The guide also profiles 87 companies, with an “honour roll” of 37 corporations.

All of this can be confusing. Oxo gets an F for “women’s issues” and F+ for “environmental management,” but scores A+ on “progressive staff policies” and “environmental performance.” (Apparently. “environmental management” has to do with company structures for dealing with environmental issues while “environmental performance” measures how much it actually pollutes.) What aspect of Oxo’s ethical behaviour do you reward or punish?

EthicScan’s approach fits current advertising trends. Nissan tells us it is just trying to build cars we can live with. Loblaws puts “Green” on everything from plastic garbage bags to tubes of shampoo. But once idea-starved ad copywriters move on to the next gimmick, EthicScan may find that the relationship between ethics and profit isn’t as straightforward as its grading system suggests.

“Goods on Groceries” was published in Now Magazine, July 2-8, 1992 (Toronto, Canada).

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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All-in-One Solar Kiosk Business Solution for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Kiosks are ubiquitous throughout commercial areas in the global South. These highly efficient little business outlets enable small-scale entrepreneurs to sell necessary products without the expense of renting and running a shop.

While they are a great solution for entrepreneurs and customers alike, they often lack connection to municipal services such as electricity and water. That means kiosk owners need to use batteries or a generator if they need a refrigerator to cool food and drink – an expensive proposition.

A new product launched this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia offers a solution.

Created by a team of German architects, the Solarkiosk (solarkiosk.eu) is an autonomous business unit designed for remote, off-grid areas. With solar panels across the top of the kiosk, it generates its own electricity and is basically a mini solar power plant. Inside, it is just like a conventional kiosk, with display shelves for products and a counter in the front with a flap – which can feature advertising and messages – that can be opened up for business and locked shut when the kiosk is closed.

The kiosk captures solar energy and the electricity generated can be used to run a computer, lights or a refrigerator. That makes the Solarkiosk capable of offering a wide range of services needing electricity, from Internet access to car-battery charging and mobile phone recharging – a now essential service as mobile phone use explodes across Africa.

The first kiosk was prototyped in November 2011 and the makers incorporated their first subsidiary, Solarkiosk Solutions PLC, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March 2012.

According to Solarkiosk 1.5 billion people worldwide have no regular supply of electricity – 800 million of them in Africa. The makers of Solarkiosk consider this a huge market and hope to make the most of it.

The kiosk comes in a kit form ready for assembly. The kit is designed to be easy to transport and is light enough and compact enough to be transported on the back of a donkey, its makers claim.

Solarkiosk operators receive training in running and managing a kiosk. They learn about solar technology and how to maintain the kiosks and run a sustainable business. Once the operators are trained and up and running, they typically hire others to help with running the kiosk and offer the services at convenient times for the customers. The Solarkiosk then, potentially, becomes an income and employment generator for the local community.

The kiosk is designed to be durable, secure and difficult to tamper with from the outside. The kiosks have been designed to suit many environments and requirements. There is a basic platform that can be added to or expanded depending on local needs and a series of models depending on the customer’s needs. Cleverly, the largest kiosk model is powerful enough to provide electricity to telecom towers. This has proven attractive to mobile telephone companies who can power a telecom tower and make money from running the kiosk as well.

The Solarkiosk is especially useful for countries near the equator where nights are long (12 hours) and the kiosk can help people get light to read, study and work.

Solarkiosk is targeting off-grid customers who are using up to 40 per cent of their household income on electricity substitutes. According to Solarkiosk, people in off-grid households collectively spend more every year (US $30 billion) lighting their homes – using candles for example – than do all the people living in electricity grid connected countries (US $20 billion).

Solar technology is becoming more affordable at the same time as demand in developing countries for electricity and the products powered by electricity is on the rise. Mobile phones are now essential tools for doing business and staying connected – and all of them need to be kept charged up.

Solarkiosk believes it can save the average off-grid household US $10 per month, while each kiosk could supply solar electricity services to between 200 and 5,000 households.

For now, Solarkiosk is available in Ethiopia. It is based in Berlin, Germany and receives money from the German government. The kiosks themselves were designed and built by Graft Architects (http://www.graftlab.com).

Resources

1) How to maintain a solar panel. Website:http://www.ehow.com/how_2005490_maintain-solar-panel.html

2) How to start a kiosk business. Website:http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/63012

3) Kiosk Innova: A Turkish pioneer of hi-tech kiosks for retail services. Website:http://www.kioskinnova.com/english

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Southern Innovator was designed and laid out in Iceland using 100% renewable energy, much of which is from geothermal sources. 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021