‘You have to hand it to them,’ says York expert of Wal-Mart green move

Less is more. At least when it comes to liquid laundry detergent, and the impact a small change in a big product category can have on the world’s environment, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 15. When Wal-Mart announced recently it would carry only two-times-concentrated (or higher) liquid laundry detergent by May, 2008, it set off a reaction that amounts to one giant leap for the environment among manufacturers, packagers and shippers, experts say.

"For the environment, this is probably one of the best things that could have happened in terms of having an impact of a substantial magnitude," says Ashwin Joshi, marketing professor and director of the MBA program at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

"When they decide something is important, they go after it in the most systematic, rigorous way known to mankind," Joshi says of Wal-Mart’s actions. "If they decide they want to move in a particular direction, I would bet on this transforming a number of sectors."

Dawn Bazely, director of York University’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), agrees: "The clout they have is like IKEA’s in terms of their ability to tell their suppliers [what they want]…. You’re talking about tipping the way business is being done."

In fact, experts say that Wal-Mart is succeeding where consumers and governments have not, despite all their green talk. The company is the biggest purchaser of green power – solar, wind and hydro – in Canada, something equivalent to taking 3,875 cars off the road for a year. "This is going to be a million times bigger than customer activism ever was,” says Joshi.

In the end, Joshi says that Wal-Mart may have run into bad publicity in the past for its labour practices and elimination of competitors, but "you have to hand it to them – and hand it to them big time," for its moves on the environment.

Assurances needed on Schreiber, says Monahan

It would be "highly unwise" to extradite Karlheinz Schreiber, the controversial German-Canadian businessman at the centre of a political firestorm engulfing the Conservative government, without assurances from German authorities that he would be returned for the inquiry, said Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote the Canadian Press Nov. 15.

"Otherwise, the inquiry then is pointless," he said. "The inquiry would be frustrated if Mr. Schreiber were not available to testify. Because without his testimony, there will not be any real clearing of the air in relation to the payments that Mr. Schreiber made."

Who gets to tell the history of patients who slaved for the Toronto Asylum wall?

An Oct.27 grassroots event was organized to critique an exhibit entitled Voices From The Wall, [which] included 28 photos of inscriptions carved by inmates into the boundary walls at the present-day CAMH, taken by photographer Tom Lackey. At the event, one long-time activist and Queen Street survivor, Mel Starkman, asked why none of the financial rewards were set aside for a memorial to the patients who built the wall, wrote Geoffrey Rheaume, who teaches critical disabilities history and health ethics in York’s Faculty of Health, in NOW magazine Nov. 15. Activists have been advocating for this for years. Add to this the question of how many psychiatric survivors and consumers could actually afford these prints.

The beautiful depictions of words carved in unimaginable pain, enforced by years of confinement, were hung for gallery-goers to admire – as much for the prints’ sepia tones as for the mysterious madness behind them. As close up as these images are, they distance the viewer from the carvers. The bricks certainly look more beautiful than they would have to the unknown souls who left their mark on them for posterity. History is grimy; this exhibit was socially airbrushed for folks shopping for art while sipping cocktails.

Is this what preserving the wall has come to? To sum up the ethical failures here, you don’t have to go much further than one eloquent thought carved so many years ago on that asylum wall. Wrote one unnamed inmate, "Don’t."

Plight of the bumblebee

Bumblebees are important pollinators in Ontario, where they play a key role in the growing of fruits and vegetables, but their ecological requirements are largely unknown, wrote The Toronto Star in its Deep Thoughts column Nov. 15 featuring York graduate student Sheila Colla. What is known, however, is that some species are disappearing from Eastern Canada and the United States.

Colla believes a combination of four factors may be contributing to the decline of bumblebees: the rise of greenhouses, which aren’t friendly to wild bees; habitat loss, the increased use of pesticides toxic to the bees and climate change.

Bumblebees are responsible for pollinating plants in the wild and are even used commercially by farmers on greenhouse crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. A dollar figure is hard to pinpoint, but Colla says bumblebees are big business.

"A third of what we eat comes from bee pollination," says Colla. "Honeybees are worth billions each year and if Colony Collapse Disorder wiped them out, native bumblebees would probably be next in line."

This skin flick focuses on tanning

You’d think sun-kissed skin would be a rare sight in the gloomy north of England, wrote the Brantford Expositor Nov. 15. Not so, says budding filmmaker Sarah Evans, who brings her take on the phenomenon of tan worship to the streets of Brantford this week.

The 21-year-old York University student is shooting a short movie called Baked at the Stand ‘N Tan on Fairview Drive overnight today and at Crane Valve on Henry Street Friday and Saturday nights.

In her fourth year at York, Evans is completing a bachelor of fine arts degree in the film and video production program. Her talents were recently recognized with a best editing award from Cinesiege, a juried event which honours outstanding student productions. An experimental short called Reinforced Therapy, about the treatment of children with behavioural disorders, was judged by a panel of film professionals.

The win was an exciting surprise for Evans, who beat some tough odds just getting into the program. After filling in a 15-page application, she was among 1,000 people interviewed for 48 spots. "It’s pretty intense. But I knew York had a really good reputation. It has produced a lot of very good filmmakers."

Former mayor to press for annual audit of guns seized by police

Toronto police should make public a list of all the guns they seize and where those guns came from, former mayor John Sewell is urging the Toronto Police Services Board, wrote the National Post Nov. 15. Harvey Simmons, professor emeritus of political science at York University, will make the pitch to the board. He argues it would inform the city’s gun debate if the public knew how many firearms are smuggled in from the United States, how many are stolen from legitimate collectors and how many find their way to Toronto’s streets through other black market channels.

Local pensioners give commission an earful

That complicated task of pension reform is being tackled by former York University president Harry Arthurs, head of the Expert Commission on Pensions, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Nov. 15. "The big issue that we’re hearing is, ‘Is my pension secure?’" said Arthurs, an expert in labour and administrative law.

It’s a key question in the Hamilton and Niagara regions, where Atlas, Stelco, Amcan Castings and Hamilton Specialty Bar have all emerged with inadequately funded pension plans. The central issue is how to manage funds in a way that prevents deficits from developing in the first place. Employee and retiree groups have argued for greater powers for regulators to intervene when a company fails to make payments into the plan. As it stands, the regulators do have the power to take a company to court and force payments, but, as Arthurs notes, that process is "long and cumbersome."

Disabled football fan takes a stand

Franklyn Earle-McFadden did not miss one of the York Lions’ football games in his first year of university, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 15. Every game day he would dress in the team’s red-and-white colours, meet up with some residence buddies and make his way to the stadium.

But Earle-McFadden, a wheelchair user, had a problem. The home-team bleachers didn’t have a ramp. The bleachers with an access ramp were designated for visiting fans – the rivals.

"It was like a slap in the face," he says of when he first realized he couldn’t sit with the home-team fans. "I really felt kind of left out. Here I was new to the campus, trying to get completely involved and immersed in university culture and because of an architectural difficulty, that’s not totally possible for me," he says.

It was at a game against York’s archrivals, the University of Toronto, he decided he could endure the situation no longer. So he refused to take his seat in the visiting bleachers and instead rolled himself out onto the edge of the field.

York University says there is adequate seating for 15 to 20 disabled students on the visiting side, but there are no plans to build a ramp on the home side.

"It’s been a bad situation for the student, but that’s the situation we currently have," says Keith Marnoch, associate director of media relations for York. Marnoch adds that the university is looking to build a new football stadium when the subway is extended to York. When that happens, the school "will re-evaluate everything."

Earle-McFadden is not fazed by the setback. Born with cerebral palsy, he has spent a lifetime proving people wrong. "When I was born, the doctors told my mother I would never be able to see straight, I would never be able to speak and I would never be able to walk," he says. "They pretty much told her that I should be put in a home."

Now in his second year, majoring in anthropology and criminology, his goals include attending law school, living in an apartment on his own and, one day, walking.

Zero waste is profitable, says FES lecturer

With Fred Ware’s help, HBC’s headquarters in Toronto became one of the few corporate offices in Canada to be designated "zero waste" by the Zero Waste International Alliance, meaning at least 90 per cent of its waste has been diverted from landfills, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 15. The tower, which holds 1,500 workers and includes employers not affiliated with HBC, had achieved a 96.5-per-cent waste-diversion rate.

HBC has realized what other companies have been slow to grasp, says Jose Etcheverry, a lecturer at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "To be quite honest, I think it is a no-brainer," says Etcheverry. "You have many good environmental reasons…but the fact is, it affects the bottom line. If you get your act together and make sure your operation is as lean and efficient as possible, your profit will increase."

On air

  • Nina Vitopoulos, coordinator with the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line at York, spoke about an upcoming talk by Jane Doe at the Keele campus, on CBC Radio Nov. 15.
  • John-Justin McMurtry, professor in York’s Business & Society Program, offered by the Division of Social Science, Faculty of Arts, took part in a panel discussion on “Who killed Kyoto?” on TVO’s “The Agenda”, Nov. 14.