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September, 25 2017  7:00 EST
EDF/ERT's Failed Eco Sell-Out:
The Effort to Take the Heat Off the Global Warming Chill Can:
Sound Environmentalism or Corporate Greenwashing?

Background on the Chill Can
Environmentalists Kick the Can
EDF/ERT's Race to Rescue the Chill-Can
The ERT Internal Memo
Bibliography

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Previously the NonProfit Accountability Project(NPAP) revealed that EDF partnered with C. Boyden Gray in a new group the Environmental Resources Trust (ERT). Strong reservations were expressed regarding this project in light of Gray's long-standing role as an antagonist to the environmental community. Now, a troubling example of the dubious agenda of ERT is exemplified by a failed partnership with The Joseph Company(TJC) wherein ERT attempted to greenwash a product of potent climate changing capacity vociferously opposed by environmentalists. Two thirds of what follows is of a background contextualizing nature, the goods on ERT/EDF are in the last third.
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Background on the Chill Can

In 1997 The Joseph Company (TJC), a Southern California business based in Laguna Niguel, introduced its self-chilling technology, developed with the U.S. Army and trademarked under the name Chill-Can.1 The technology involved an aerosol container placed within a beverage container such as a 12 ounce soda can. Upon the press of a button, an aerosol gas would be released over a 90 second period. Thanks to the miracles of technology, the escaping gas absorbs heat from the liquid contents, thereby chilling the larger container which in turn lowers the temperature of the liquid contents -- much as a bicycle or auto tire valve cools upon release of the compressed air from the tire. In the case of the Chill-Can technology, a drink could be cooled by about 30 degrees from the original temperature. The product developed with the army was named Individual Canteen Cup Cooler a.k.a. IC3 or Ice Cube. In 1996 the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command named the Joseph Company "Rookie of the Year." http://www-sscom.army.mil/warrior/96/dec/awards.htm/

Joseph Company's product was described as a "safe, cost-effective method to cool a beverage quickly."1 Now the military has usually not been known for its eco-consciousness, so it is understandable that the army did not consider other eco-aspects of their "Rookie of the Year". The Joseph Company's CEO, Mitchell Joseph, chimed in with the prediction that "the first launch will use refrigerants which have non-toxic, nonflammable and non-ozone depleting properties."2 Nice try, Rookie, but unfortunately he was not considering global warming in his choice of HFC R-134a, the gas for the aerosol container further discussed below.

Early focus groups for the Chill Can indicated a favorable response from consumers attracted by the convenience (no cumbersome ice cooler to carry) and perception of the can as a status symbol. ("Like check out my cool can, man!") Joseph Company also conceived that Western vacationers in less developed countries would appreciate the Chill Can. CEO Joseph commented that "Twenty minutes outside many of the world's major cities -- Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Cairo -- there are often no cold drinks, and any available ice might harbor bacteria."3

Other applications were under consideration. Charles Lee, a company spokesman, pointed out the vital need of the product to the military. "You have a million-dollar soldier out there who can't fight because his human needs aren't being met…so the Joseph Company applied its technology to that and helped them."4 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing the Joseph Company's technology to chill food for astronauts on the Space Shuttle. http://www.chillcan.com/

In June '97 in Singapore, Joseph Company debuted the Chill-Can to the world at the Cannex '97 -- the International Canning Technology Exhibition. The Chill Can garnered two prizes, including the "Can of the Year" Award.4;5 Joseph company touted that the can was "completely recyclable," "ozone friendly," and would decrease "ozone-depleting emissions from leaky old refrigerators and dirty portable generators in developing countries."6 Obviously environmental concerns were not taken into account by the judges, for the can was concurrently under attack by environmentalists.

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Environmentalists Kick the Can

The Chill-Can technology released into the atmosphere a hydrofluorocarbon gas (HFC 134a) described as having a global warming effect many times greater than carbon dioxide(CO2) -- estimates ranged from 1000 to 3400 times more global warming inductive. Plans for the Chill Can induced vehement opposition from environmentalists; and scientists also numbered amongst the critics of the can.6;7

The World Wild Fund for Nature-UK(WWF) actively campaigned against the can and mobilized its European affiliates to demand a ban by the European Union. Dr. Robin Pellew, Director of WWF-UK, warned that,

While this might seem a marvelous invention, the problem is that the cooling gas is HFC 134A, a chemical that is 3,400 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas;… this is potentially a very serious threat to the environment. If millions of people start popping these cans, it will make a mockery of the international drive to reverse climate change. The cans must be banned now…we will seek to have these cans banned from all countries of sale, starting with the European Union. We will also seek out and expose those companies that are profiting from the gas in this unethical way. http://www.wwf-uk.org/news/news39.htm This was a very strong reaction from the normally cautious WWF co-founded by England's royalty and hardly viewed as a radical group within the environmental community. WWF-UK pursued a multi-prong approach of lobbying against the can, attempting a ban of HFC-134a by international treaty, and exploring the possibilities for the use of an alternative gas with a less climate harming effect.8 Greenpeace also spoke out against the can calling it "wholly unacceptable, especially when the UK was supposed to be tightening up its environmental efforts".9

Critiques by environmentalists were echoed by British environmental minister Michael Meacher who stated that, "If we allow a gas which is so potent in producing global warming we are completely undermining international efforts to overcome this cause of global warming with all its very adverse consequences for human society." Furthermore, he added that "if the self-chilling cans took on in a big way - and I entirely understand they might - if they captured, say 10% of the UK market in (the year) 2000, we estimate that they would produce emissions equivalent to 43.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - that is over half the projected reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000…So how can we be asking industry and individuals to act responsibly in taking every action they can to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and then allow one manufacturer to negate half of that effort?… No responsible government can do that." http://cgi.bbc.co.uk/politics97/news/06/0618/cans.shtml Elsewhere Meacher commented that, "we all enjoy cold drink on a hot day. But there are bigger problems than making it easier to get a cool drink… and they don't come any bigger than global warming…unless we cut production of greenhouse gases, we can expect drastic change to our world…we would be failing our children and future generations if we do not act to safeguard our environment."4;10 At a meeting of the European Union's Environmental Council, environmental ministers pondered a ban on the product. Meeting in Luxembourg, the ministers made a joint statement expressing reservations regarding the "global warming potential;" a spokesperson commented that "the Commission will look into this with a view to banning" the Chill Can.11

In a report on the matter, Mother Jones magazine quoted an environmentalists from Ozone Action as pointing out that "opening a single self-chilling can would have the same effect on global warming as driving a typical car 200 miles." http://bsd.mojones.com/news_wire/chillcan.html A letter from the United States Environmental Protection Agency expressed concern "regarding the environmental damage that could result from emissions of climate forcing gases from self chilling cans…[which] would make achieving the goals of President Clinton in the CCAP [Climate Change Action Plan] much more difficult." http://bsd.motherjones.com/news_wire/epaletter.html

Under attack, the company emphasized to the press a more broadminded vision of its product than just a another consumer item for lazy status-seeking yuppies. "Here we really have an ability to give refreshing drinks to people who may not have the luxury of refrigeration," according to Charles Lee, a company spokesman.4 Furthermore, he also floated the view that these less developed countries were the company's primary target for their humanitarian product. (Just think of the human suffering associated with people not having access to a cold Coca-Cola.) The company CEO Joseph repeated the company's stance that the product would be "good for the environment…reduces the ozone-depleting emissions from leaky old refrigerators and dirty portable generators in developing countries."12 Joseph noted that the company planned to not target Europe but "a part of the world in need of refrigeration and that has major water pollution."13 (Smart public relations move, pit the South against the North. Forget the fact that the pricier chill cans -- .25 cents in U.S. dollars -- would very well be out of the reach of many people in impoverished countries.) Additionally, he added that "it's always been our concern that the environment is an issue…we wouldn't be in California otherwise. We would have picked a different state, he said, referring to California's strong environmental laws.

Yet spokesperson Lee also claimed that Joseph Company was "not married to HFC-134a…the Chill-Can can be adapted to use a multitude of different refrigerants " and was researching "replacement gases" more environmentally acceptable.4;5 He made this statement in June 1997. However it is clear that the company had previously been aware of the global warming drawbacks of HFC-134a but went ahead with development nonetheless, for in August of 1996 Joseph Company and ERT had decided to pursue "a greenhouse gas offset project" as discussed below.

Adding to the pressure from environmentalists, government officials, and scientists, even chemical and soda pop manufacturers came out against the Chill Can. DuPont, ICI and ELF Atochem, the leading manufacturers of HFC 134a, expressed strong opposition and pledged not to sell the gas to Joseph.9;12;14;15 The manufacturers explained that the gas had been meant for use in closed systems such as refrigerators or air conditioners, but not for release into the atmosphere. An association of European beverage manufacturers of the gas sought a resolution with beverage companies to avoid the product.12 Whitbreads, Guinness, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and NASA committed themselves against the Chill Can.12 http://www.earthisland.org/eijournal/departments-spring98/EbbnFlow.html/ However, concerns were raised that not all corporations would be as ethical. No reports expressed the fear that an environmental group might consider this version of the Chill Can as a legitimate product -- little did people know.

By September 1997, Joseph Company announced its abandonment of HFC-134a and the intent to redevelop the can to use carbon dioxide as the chilling gas.16 http://www.wwf-uk.org/news/news28.htm Promise was made to consult with World Wide Fund for Nature--UK regarding future steps; furthermore the company planned to impanel a committee of environmentalists, government officials, and beverage industry experts to assure attainment of environmental goals.

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EDF/ERT's Race to Rescue the Chill-Can

In light of the many denunciations of The Joseph Company's (TJC) Chill Can, it came as some surprise to learn from an ERT internal memo that in 1996, prior to the debut and controversy with the can, ERT's board of directors had approved a project to legitimize the Chill Can by arranging for counterbalancing sequestration of carbon dioxide.

"The business strategy involved the introduction of the product bundled with greenhouse gas offsets to produce 'no net environmental impact." In other words, ERT would arrange for trees to be planted, a forest to be purchased, a more efficient power plant constructed, or some other means whereby carbon dioxide would be stored or perhaps less would be produced to negate the global warming induced by TJC's product. During the uproar against the product from European environmentalists, Joseph Company had announced that it would spend $ 20 million to construct a production plant in Minas Gerais, a state of Brazil.17 The company predicted that the plant would have a production capacity of 800 million cans per year. Just think, the cans could have been produced in the very vicinity that the carbon offsets of protected forests might be negotiated; perhaps eco-tourists could have visited both the plant and the forests while enjoying a cool Mountain Dew out of a Chill-Can and thinking how all was well with the world thanks to EDF and Boyden Gray.

However, ERT's "board expressed concerns about the potential public response to this product launch strategy and its effect upon ERT." To deal with the image question, "consumer focus groups were impaneled to assess public response to both the offset strategy and to the self-chilling can,…polling was conducted with stratified sampling which included EDF's membership…ERT, in conjunction with EDF, secured the pro bono services of a media consulting firm for the purpose of developing a strategic communication plan. TJC agreed to provide funding for market research."

Unfortunately for EDF and ERT, "…results indicated skepticism about offsets and a lack of enthusiasm for the product." Furthermore, "market research indicated that only a product launch with a coalition of environmental groups in support could succeed in addressing public concern." Regrettably, before EDF and ERT could try to line up other organizations, "the British government announced a ban on the use of refrigerants for product applications such as the self-chilling can. The combination of the circumstances made the project environmentally untenable to pursue."

Well folks, what have we here. Because of poor market survey response and government intervention, ERT's plans were foiled. (C. Boyden Gray must have fumed at yet another example of government interference with free market capitalism, and one which he perhaps viewed as environmentally sound at that.) However others may take a different view of what could be deemed environmentalism guided by opinion poll and opportunism, not science or visionary principle. The guiding ethos of ERT appears to be harnessed in service of the interests of corporate partners, and not necessarily the environment.

It is a breath of fresh air to note that the public and EDF's membership were not supportive of the "offset" agenda which is a cornerstone of ERT's and EDF's efforts to address global warming. This suggests that environmental organizations interested in raising funds and members could very well appeal to EDF members, many of whom might very well be unaware of and in disagreement with EDF's policies. Similarly, probably few members of EDF would know that a few years ago the group was ejected from the Endangered Species Coalition for secretly negotiating with Republicans and special interests to revise the Endangered Species Act(ESA). These proposed revisions were widely decried as leading to an evisceration of the ESA. Furthermore, in carrying out the negotiations without informing other members of the coalition, EDF had violated a basic rule of coalition membership --that fellow members would be informed of such negotiations. EDF's action gives a new meaning to the term wolf in sheep's clothing: in the time frame of this ESA controversy, EDF was carrying out a direct mail campaign with color photos extolling its work on behalf of endangered species, never mentioning its own expulsion.

Since the failure of their initial effort, the Joseph company developed a can using recycled industrial CO2 which appears to have so far received environmental approval from both the British government and the EPA and not aroused the concern of the environmental community.18;19 http://www.chillcan.com/ Oddly, plans for the Brazilian plant, floated during the height of the criticism of the Chill-Can, seem to now have been dropped; plans call for manufacturing plants in the United States and Great Britain.19  NPAP placed an inquiry into the office of the Joseph Company; the person we spoke with could not address the question and said that the "only person" who could inform us was away on vacation until January 10th.

One major conclusion from the above is that EDF's approach could have stifled a much more ecologically sound product that has since developed because other members of the environmental community challenged the original bummer idea which EDF ok'd. (Of course here we overlook from discussion a deeper ecological criticism of the role of soda cans full of colored sugar water in modern consumerism-driven society.) Whereas the company was a villain in 1997, now it has received an award from the E.P.A. http://www.chillcan.com/

On ERT's website is found the statement that "ERT believes that a sustainable future can be reached if businesses are economically rewarded for making sound environmental decisions and consumers are able to choose environmentally superior goods and services in the marketplace." http://www.ert.net/html/who_we_are.html   NPAP is confused at how the Chill-Can could have been imagined to be in the category of "environmentally superior goods."

NPAP has not been able to learn which media consulting firm was so kind as to offer its services to for free as mentioned in the ERT memo. One suspect is Edelman Worldwide. Stauber's Toxic Sludge is Good For You describes the Edelman public relations firm as representing multiple clients at odds with environmentalists, including Monsanto and the anti-environmental "Wise Use" group Alliance for America. 20 An example of Edelman's heinous work involved sabotaging a Today Show appearance by David Steinman, author of the book Diet for a Poisoned Planet which took a critical view of pesticides. Edelman Worldwide's associates certainly get around; a top level Edelman executive sits on the board of the National Audubon Society. The head of Audubon, John Flicker, sits on the board of Environmental Resources Trust, where he gets to look up to ERT's Chairman C. Boyden Gray. This cozy relationship between Audubon and EDF reveals how much EDF has changed over the years. Gottlieb's Forcing the Spring describes Audubon's board turning down a request by EDF's founders 30 years ago for integration within a branch of Audubon, in spite of support from the society's membership. Gottlieb ascribes this decision to Audubon's friendly relationship with the chemical industry which would have been aghast at Audubon for strongly helping the activists fighting to ban the pesticide DDT.21 Ironically DDT had stirred Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring in light of the chemical's effect on birds .

We close this briefing with a few thoughts about carbon trading and emissions offset and other efforts to address global warming. The British environmental minister Meacher had in condemning the Chill Can commented that a desirable goal would be a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 20%. Others have called for even greater decreases. The best that could be mustered from the recent global warming talks in Buenos Aires were figures of 10% or less, in part due to United States recalcitrance from pursuing greater reductions. If the world were to set even stronger goals for itself, it is likely that offsets and trading would not be sufficient to meet these goals, and thus the United States would have to explore reducing its own production of greenhouse gases. Bingo. This is exactly what groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and even National Wildlife Foundation are calling for.

An irony of this whole matter regarding the Joseph company is that HFC 134a, the gas intended for the Chill Can, had been developed as a substitute for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The CFCs had been phased out on account of their ozone depleting effect. Yet as we have seen, the substitutes turned out to be highly problematic greenhouse gases. This case should be a cautionary note for those whiz kids who hold the view that technology will be the primary means of saving the planet from global warming. A variant of the high technology panacea calls for holding off strong action for a decade or more because at a later time better and cheaper technologies will be available. One of these technologies advocated by some is nuclear power. It is interesting to note that neither EDF nor its compatriot NRDC voiced opposition to Clinton's decision to allow the sale of nuclear power generators to China, an act touted by the administration as a climate protecting move. With China's record on human rights, one but fears for the life of the Chinese Karen Silkwood who would dare to blow a whistle about environmental problems arising in China's atomic reactors.

This Chill-Can episode should be troubling to environmentalists and raise serious questions regarding the integrity of ERT's agenda. Regrettably, this matter is not an anomaly as further briefings will reveal.

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Bibliography

1. Army honor helps march industry toward self-chilling can.(US Army Soldier Systems Command honors Joseph Co. with the Rookie of the Year award for its self-chilling device for beverages). Beverage World , 14. 2-15-1997.
2. Aerosol Technology Cools Drinks. Ozone Depletion Network Online Today . 3-26-1997.
3. Havis Dawson. The push to chill. (Joseph Co. develops self-chilling beverage can). Beverage World , 74. 4-15-1997.
4. Inventors defend self-cooling drink can. Deutsche Presse-Agentur . 6-20-1997.
5. Chill-Can Receives Award, Complaints. Ozone Depletion Network Online Today . 6-25-1997.
6. Climate Change:Self-Cooling Cans Concern British. Greenwire . 5-23-1997.
7. Joseph agrees to stop using HFC refrigerant. Packaging Week , 2. 10-2-1997.
8. Geoffrey Lean. Self-chill can on ice until safer gas is found. The Independent - London , 6. 9-28-1997.
9. Environment Minister Calls For Chill-Can Ban. Packaging Week , 1. 6-26-1997.
10. Heated debate over self-chilling drink can. Singapore Straits Times . 6-21-1997.
11. European Commission Considers Drink Can Ban. Ozone Depletion Network Online Today . 6-24-1997.
12. Geoffrey Lean. Sordid affair that bespoils the sea. The Independent - London , 6. 6-22-1997.
13. Laurinda Keys. AP Worldstream . 6-19-97.
14. Elf Atochem condemns HFC 134a use. Packaging Week , 1. 7-24-1997.
15. ELF Concerns Over Refrigerating Gases. Europe Environment . 7-24-1997.
16. BOC & the Joseph Company to Commercialize Self-Chilling Can; Self-Chilling Drinks - The Environment Comes First. PR Newswire . 9-26-1997.
17. Joseph Co. To Invest $20 Million in Brazil. Gazeta Mercantil , 1. 7-2-1997.
18. Chilling Out: Joseph Co. Says Its Future Is in the Can Firm Aims For '99 Roll-Out; Environmental Concerns Overcome. Orange County Business Journal , 4. 7-6-1998. 19. Self-chilling can gets green light. Agence France Presse . 4-18-1998.
20. John C.Stauber, Sheldon Rampton: Toxic Sludge Is Good For You; Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press; 1995:
21. Robert Gottlieb: Forcing the Spring, The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, Washington, D.C, Island Press; 1993:  

NonProfit Accountability Project -- PO Box 53238, Washington D.C. 20009 -- 202 333 1855

 

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