Electrifying everything should start with the masses

February 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Electrifying everything should start with the masses Sarah Golden Fri, 02/26/2021 – 00:45 The case for electrifying buildings is a no-brainer. It makes buildings healthier , cheaper and is essential to addressing climate change (building operations account for 28 percent of emissions globally — more than all of the transportation sector). That doesn’t mean electrifying buildings will be easy. Beyond the coordination needed between building owners, contractors and occupants to retrofit buildings, electric appliances still have a higher upfront cost (although they are cheaper over the life of the appliance). That means the early adopters tend to be affluent individuals (think early Tesla owners) or companies with healthy profit margins (such as Google and Microsoft).  BlocPower , a New York-based startup, wants to flip that path to adoption upside down. Its vision is to finance all-electric upgrades for buildings in low-income communities to accelerate the speed and scale of deployments.  “We have to start with the mass market and communities of color, and offer them services and projects that make sense to their budget in order to reduce greenhouse gases on a time frame that makes sense,” BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird recently said on the podcast Watt It Takes . This week, the company announced a Series A funding round to the tune of $63 million, led by The Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group. The fund will enable BlocPower to expand and scale its inner-city energy retrofits to projects across the nation, with $49 million going toward low-income residential buildings and $6 million dedicated to low-income small commercial buildings, houses of worship and other community buildings.  Core to this strategy is keeping the benefit of building electrification in these communities — creating jobs, improving health and saving households money. It also is a glimpse into financing models that can help commercialize technologies, while ensuring all communities have access to climate tech.  Financial innovations are as important as technological innovations There is a beautiful dance between finance and technology that can scale clean energy technologies: Prices fall when deployments increase; deployments increase when prices fall. The challenge is getting this virtuous cycle going. Early technologies are expensive and can have bugs, which can scare away early adopters. Financial innovations can help by jumpstarting the mainstreaming of clean technology and removing the risk from customers. The classic example of this in action is solar , where the innovation of solar loans and leases led to the proliferation of rooftop solar. This supported the rapid reduction of price, with utility-scale solar reaching 6 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2017 — three years before the Department of Energy’s ambitious SunShot goal , once seen as unrealistic.  Many clean energy technologies save money over time, so upfront finance can be a great investment. It’s one reason why there has been a rise in companies that offer energy upgrades as a service — the offtaker pays a subscription fee that is more than offset by energy savings, while the owner of assets gets a return on its investment.  BlocPower is taking this principle and applying it to low-income neighborhoods, often overlooked in financial innovations, and electric appliances, in need of rapid commercialization before they can scale to meet the climate challenge. Keeping economic benefits of clean energy local BlocPower’s model goes beyond bringing the energy savings to poor neighborhoods; it is also working to keep the wealth creation local.  According to Baird, the financial product developed with Goldman creates a holding company that owns the clean energy equipment available to low-income building owners. The twist is these holding companies could be co-owned by low-income community members and nonprofits, so they benefit from the dividends.  “So now the idea or concerns about, ‘How do you get people of color or low-income people in the climate movement?’ Well, we’re going to give you an economic stake,” Baird said on Watt It Takes. “We’re going to give you equity, not just in terms of, ‘Are we going to treat you fairly?’ Equity in terms of, ‘We’re going to give you stock in a new corporation that we’re co-creating so that you have financial incentive to participate in the clean energy economy.” Relatedly, BlocPower strives to create local jobs within the communities where building upgrades occur. While the details of job training aren’t spelled out in the company’s funding release, the idea is solid; workforce training uplifts communities and keeps people engaged in the clean economy.  And there will be enough jobs to go around. Rewiring America , a think tank that has done detailed accounting into what it would take to curb U.S. emissions, estimates that electrifying everything (buildings, transport and industry) would create upwards of 25 million jobs in America alone.  Building electrification is worth it From a climate perspective, electrification is an imperative . There just isn’t a path to a safe climate future without addressing natural gas in buildings. But even if that weren’t the case, electrification is great for building occupants. From a cost perspective, electrification will slash energy bills in new construction and in many retrofits today. Looking forward to the cost of electricity in the years to come, Rewiring America determined that the average American household would save an average of $1,900 per year by going all-electric — including financing to switch to electric appliances and cars.  This is especially valuable for communities of color, who disproportionately suffer from energy poverty, meaning they struggle to afford baseline energy needs. As a percentage of income, Black households pay upwards of threefold more than white households for energy. Relieving monthly expenses associated with inefficient and dirty energy is a natural way to uplift communities and help keep money local.  From a health perspective, a growing mountain of evidence shows natural gas appliances in homes can be dangerous, with research from UCLA showing they produce a range of air pollutants inside homes that can have acute and chronic health impacts. This is especially bad in smaller apartments — where low-income families tend to live.  Want more great analysis of the clean energy transition? Sign up for Energy Weekly , our free email newsletter. Topics Energy & Climate Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Exterior view of new multifamily residential building facade under construction in San Jose, California. Image by Shutterstock/Michael Vi

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Circular business model lessons from IKEA, REI and Eileen Fisher

February 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green, Recycle

Circular business model lessons from IKEA, REI and Eileen Fisher Deonna Anderson Fri, 02/26/2021 – 00:30   Moving from a linear business model to a circular takes time, effort and trial and error. But it also has its hidden benefits. “It can help you with some operational efficiencies. It can also position you to be sort of a company of the future, and also, frankly, tackle the environmental challenges that we have of our consumption model,” said Tensie Whelan, director at New York University’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business, at the end of a conversation that she moderated about circular business models at GreenBiz 21 .  Whelan led a conversation with leaders at REI, IKEA and Eileen Fisher, each of which are embracing circular practices in some parts of their businesses. For REI, transitioning to a circular model seems inevitable so it’s doing the work now. “REI, as a company, we believe that this broader kind of shift to a more circular economy is something that the world is really going to have to do over the next 10 years,” said Ken Voeller, director of circular commerce and new business development at REI. “And it’s also a shift that’s going to take many forms. There’s resale, there’s rental, there’s designing products with circularity in mind. It’s not really like there’s a silver bullet.” I think resale is still quite innovative and continues to morph and change and [there’s] still quite a limited number of brands that are doing it. Here are four lessons about implementing and iterating circular business models from these retailers. 1. The nuts and bolts of resell sound simple on paper But they’re more complicated in action.  “There’s a lot to think about, as it relates to how do you want to build the infrastructure to support a more circular economy. And then how do you want to build the capability to support it,” Voeller said, noting that the effort aligns with the company’s broader business aspirations, including halving its carbon footprint by 2030. REI has been partnering with Trove (formerly Yerdle) to work out the kinks and operate its resell program in an effort to become more circular. “As we think about the things that we can do as a company to continue to grow revenue, without necessarily growing environmental impact, our circular businesses really hit that sweet spot of being able to do both of those things,” Voeller added. In order to make a circular economy work, a company needs a lot of partners. For REI, while Trove is one of those partners, in a sense, so are the customers that return items for the recommerce program. 2. Engaging customers before they step foot into a store IKEA, known for its flat-packed furniture, has launched buyback programs in select markets. Debuting on Black Friday 2020 , the program was temporarily launched in some countries where IKEA operates, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. And IKEA U.S. is looking forward to launching such a program in the future, after it’s able to wade through state regulations. The program is part of the company’s journey to become more circular. Here’s what the process looks like for a customer interested in selling furniture back to IKEA: Complete an online form about the piece of furniture Receive an payment offer from IKEA Drop off furniture at the store Receive payment from IKEA in the form of a voucher IKEA will sell item in its bargain section “We wouldn’t be asking a customer to lug in a big bookcase that maybe they have sitting in their basement that they haven’t used, just to see if we’ll buy it back from them,” said Jenn Keesson, sustainability manager at IKEA U.S., during the GreenBiz 21 discussion. At the time of the Black Friday announcement, the company noted that any items it is unable to resell will be recycled. “It’s really an end of life solution. … I’m sure that all of us can think of an item in our house that we haven’t gotten rid of, but we’re still not using. So we were excited to be able to offer this solution to our customers in the U.S.,” Keesson said. 3. Presenting customers with all their options Since clothing company Eileen Fisher launched its takeback and resale program Renew in 2009, it has collected 1.5 million returned garments, according to Cynthia Power, director of Eileen Fisher Renew. “I think resale is still quite innovative and continues to morph and change and [there’s] still quite a limited number of brands that are doing it,” Power said. “It’s exciting to keep trying to figure out how to make it better and how to keep the most garments in use for as long as possible.” Since clothing company Eileen Fisher launched its resale program Renew in 2009, it has taken back 1.5 million garments. Photo by melissamn on Shutterstock. Eileen Fisher Renew has been experimenting with the larger main brand in some of its retail stores to display new products alongside used products, design samples and remanufactured products. “We’re really trying to give the customer a view into all the different life cycles of our clothes,” Power said. 4. A gateway for customers — new and old For both Eileen Fisher and REI, the recommerce work each company is doing seems to be getting the attention of people who’ve never shopped with them before. “We really see the renew program and resell in general as an opportunity to bring in a new customer who, whether it’s price point or environmental values, or whatever the customer likes, offers them a new way into the brand,” Power said. “We’ve definitely seen a significant percentage of new customers purchasing from Renew who haven’t necessarily purchased from the main line before.” A circular economy will not just be resale, and it will not just be rental. It will be resale, and rental and circular products designed from the ground up. Voeller of REI noted a similar trend at the outdoor recreation company and added that its resell program also offers an opportunity to develop a different type of relationship with existing customers. “We really view the supply side of our recommerce business as a really interesting retention tool to keep customers engaged with REI and continuing to turn to us for their outdoor purchases,” he said. “They’re able to say, ‘I’ve got this backpack that’s been in my closet for three years. I’ve used it twice. I really don’t need that. Why don’t I trade that into REI, and I’ll get credit to apply towards the thing that I really do want?’”  And while most of the conversations and strategies between these business leaders focused on resale, they know it’s not the only circular business model. Companies that want to be more circular likely will need and want to take multiple approaches to get there. “A circular economy will not just be resale, and it will not just be rental. It will be resale, and rental and circular products designed from the ground up,” Voeller said.    Pull Quote A circular economy will not just be resale, and it will not just be rental. It will be resale, and rental and circular products designed from the ground up. I think resale is still quite innovative and continues to morph and change and [there’s] still quite a limited number of brands that are doing it. Topics Circular Economy GreenBiz 21 Business Development Recommerce GreenBiz 21 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Ikea, REI and Eileen Fisher are banking on a circular model to propel them into the next era of commerce.//Images by  Graeme Dawes ,  Eric Glenn and  Helen89 on Shutterstock.

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Circular business model lessons from IKEA, REI and Eileen Fisher

ESG in 2021: The State of Play

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

ESG in 2021: The State of Play Date/Time: March 18, 2021 (1-2PM ET / 10-11AM PT) The world of environmental, social and governance metrics and ratings has entered a new and dynamic phase. Suddenly, nearly every publicly held company — and many privately held firms — are examining their policies and programs through the lens of investors’ rising interest in ESG metrics. For their part, investors are learning that corporate environmental and social activities are no longer a nice-to-do activity — they are core to well-managed and profitable companies. As a result, ESG has moved from the margins to the mainstream. What are the implications for today’s sustainability and finance professionals? How can they serve the interests of investor relations departments, risk professionals and other internal stakeholders who have become part of the ESG ecosystem inside companies?  In this one-hour webcast, you’ll hear the state of play from two industry insiders. Among the things you’ll learn: What are the key ESG metrics investors are examining? What are the opportunities for sustainability professionals to play a leadership role in their company’s ESG strategy? How will the Biden administration affect the trajectory of ESG transparency and disclosure? What are the rising ESG issues that investors are considering in assessing companies? Moderator: Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor, GreenBiz Speakers: Thomas Kamei, Executive Director, Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Tessie Petion, Head, ESG Engagement, Amazon If you can’t tune in live, please register and we will email you a link to access the archived webcast footage and resources, available to you on-demand after the webcast. taylor flores Thu, 02/25/2021 – 11:53 Joel Makower Chairman & Executive Editor GreenBiz Group @makower Thomas Kamei Executive Director, Investment Management Morgan Stanley Tessie Petion Head, ESG Engagement Amazon gbz_webcast_date Thu, 03/18/2021 – 10:00 – Thu, 03/18/2021 – 11:00

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ESG in 2021: The State of Play

Seville’s plan to turn oranges into electricity

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Eco, Green, Recycle

Spanish engineers have updated the old citrus cliché, bringing it into the eco era — when life gives you oranges, make electricity. In Seville, they’re repurposing the many tons of fruit that the city’s 48,000 orange trees drop in the streets. Instead of a sticky, pulpy wintertime hazard, the methane from these rotting oranges will soon generate clean energy . Seville’s municipal water company, Emasesa, will start this new program by using 35 tons of fruit in a facility that already turns organic matter into electricity. The methane captured from fermenting oranges will drive the generators for water purification plants. If the orange experiment is successful, old fruit could one day supply the grid with surplus power . Scientists report that early trials show that 1,000 kilograms of oranges can fuel five homes for a day. If all of Seville’s oranges were harvested, they could power 73,000 homes. Recent: Vincent Callebaut proposes a green, food-producing footbridge for Paris “We hope that soon we will be able to recycle all the city’s oranges,” said Benigno López, the head of Emasesa’s environmental department, as reported by The Guardian . “The juice is fructose made up of very short carbon chains and the energetic performance of these carbon chains during the fermentation process is very high. It’s not just about saving money. The oranges are a problem for the city and we’re producing added value from waste .” López estimated that Seville would need to invest 250,000 euros (about $300,000) to accomplish this. Oranges were introduced to Spain about 1,000 years ago. “They have taken root here, they’re resistant to pollution and have adapted well to the region,” said Fernando Mora Figueroa, head of the Seville’s parks department. “People say the city of Seville is the world’s largest orange grove.” Locals don’t eat typically eat the bitter oranges. Instead, they drop, rot and attract flies. The city employs 200 people to pick up the fallen fruit . Via The Guardian Image via Hans Braxmeier

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Seville’s plan to turn oranges into electricity

Mayonnaise is saving sea turtles after an oil spill in Israel

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Eco, Green

An unlikely hero is emerging in Israel’s fight to save sea turtles from one of the country’s worst ecological disasters. Mayonnaise is making the difference between life and death for some turtles affected by the estimated 1,000 tons of tar washing up on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. North of Tel Aviv, at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, medical assistant Guy Ivgy is helping to treat 11 turtles. “They came to us full of tar,” Ivgy said . “All their trachea from inside and outside was full of tar.” Turtle rescue workers have found that feeding the fatty, egg-based condiment to the turtles helps flush out their tar-clogged digestive tracks. Within a week or two, workers hope to release the turtles back into the wild. Related: Volunteers brave winter storm to save cold-stunned sea turtles The source of all this tar is still shrouded in mystery. It likely came from an oil tanker passing the Israeli coast a week or so ago. Israeli officials think that a ship spilled tens — or maybe even hundreds — of tons of oil outside Israel’s territorial waters. Then, without warning, chunks of tar starting washing up on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon. Because tar irritates human skin and can cause illness, people have been warned to stay off beaches — except for the 4,000 or so volunteers doing the cleanup to minimize damage to wildlife. The spill’s “consequences will be seen for years to come,” according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Sea birds and other animals in the Mediterranean have also ingested spilled oil. Scientists are especially worried about Dendropoma petraeum , a type of reef-building snail whose population has already plummeted from global warming . Earlier this week, an Israeli court forbade publishing any details of the investigation, including the name of the suspected ship and its itinerary. Israeli journalists have petitioned the court to lift the ban. People want to know who is responsible for this destruction — and where to send the bill. Via AP and NPR Image via Kandhal Keshvala

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Mayonnaise is saving sea turtles after an oil spill in Israel

Green terraces intersect a mixed-use tower in Shenzhen

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Eco, Green

In southeastern Shenzhen , Beijing-based architecture firm Clou Architects has completed Shenzhen Shuiwan 1979 Life Plaza, a mixed-use development interwoven with green terraces and a “secret garden” to provide visitors respite from the hustle and bustle of the tech megacity. The project, which was completed in 2016, takes inspiration for its name from the 1979 announcement by Deng Xiaoping — the country’s paramount leader prior to Xi Jinping — to reform and open up China, starting with the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in the area of Shekou. The 220-meter-tall complex also draws influences from the lush, mountainous surroundings with its inclusion of elevated green spaces and public areas. Set between tree-lined streets with a direct connection to the Shuiwan subway station in Shekou, the Shenzhen Shuiwan 1979 Life Plaza combines a residential and office tower of 107,000 square meters with a three-story retail podium of 36,000 square meters. To give the skyscraper a more human scale and to pay homage to the diverse Shekou area, the architects designed the tower as a series of interlocking small boxes stacked together. Landscaped public spaces are placed throughout the building, including a floating “secret garden” with panoramic views of Shenzhen. Related: Foster + Partners wins bid to design the nature-filled Guangming Hub “The clear and concise façade texture of the office floor portrays the overall image of the project, delivering a landmark identity in the area,” the architects said. “The podium contains ample commercial retail space, and the commercial space of the plaza has a large atrium which runs through three levels of retail space. Due to its close proximity to river and mountain, Shuiwan 1979 becomes a building that interacts with the city.” Clou Architects further engaged the public realm on the street level with a landscaped public park that wraps around the southeast side of the 220-meter tower. + Clou Architects Images via Shining Laboratory

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Green terraces intersect a mixed-use tower in Shenzhen

Adorable goat playground raises awareness of upcycling waste

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Eco, Green

NOMAD architects and Karina Aramanda have transformed wood waste into GO[A]T WASTE?, an educational pavilion and animal playground that raises awareness about the merits of upcycling . Installed in the town of ?daži in Latvia, the eco-friendly project was inspired by the architects’ research into construction’s impact on climate change and environmental pollution; according to Latvia’s Ministry of Environment, the building industry is one of the biggest waste producers in the country. The architects repurposed timber off-cuts into three modular pavilions that can be joined together or used as standalone structures. The GO[A]T WASTE? project began with the collection of unwanted timber from a variety of sources, including new construction, renovation and demolition sites. Because the pavilions would only be built of upcycled waste, the final designs were limited by the materials the architects could salvage. They mostly collected short timber off-cuts with a few long, structural beams. Related: WOOMETRY upcycles salvaged wood into eco-friendly home goods The upcycled waste was transformed into three modular , mobile structures topped with roofs and equipped with tables and benches. Although the structures can be joined together into a united pavilion, each segment was individually designed with differing facades. Leftovers from the pavilion-building process were repurposed for an urban gardening project and workshop activities. The pavilions were temporarily used for an educational workshop on recycling, after which the structures were relocated near a mini-zoo and repurposed as a playground for goats. “Through the process we could identify certain topics that would improve future material reuse in building projects,” the architects said. “For example, design for disassembly principles should be kept in mind whenever new materials are used, so that later they can be handed over for reuse . During material collection from the demolition sites, much of the material had to be discarded because of too high damage. This was especially due to the excessive use of glue and nails which limit the disassembly process.” + NOMAD architects Images via ?dams Muzikants, Karina Armanda and L?va Mazure

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Investors are failing African entrepreneurs — it’s time for a change

February 25, 2021 by  
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Investors are failing African entrepreneurs — it’s time for a change Salma Okonkwo Thu, 02/25/2021 – 00:10 Despite the global economic slowdown caused by COVID-19, the case for investing in Africa is stronger than ever. Africa will remain a competitive investment destination for decades to come because of its improving relative risk profiles, regional integration and strong economic fundamentals. However, many challenges remain for local founders despite the record -breaking fundraising year African startups had in 2019. This is especially the case when it comes to women-led companies. The energy sector will be critical for Africa’s post-COVID economic recovery and will be one of the most attractive investment sectors in 2021. Stakeholders ranging from the African Development Bank to large-scale private funds recognize the need cost-efficient industrial energy access as well as universal household electricity. To expand the impact of their investments in the energy sector, development finance institutions (DFIs) and private investors should pay more attention to empowering African-led energy firms by adjusting their risk analyses and to closing gaps for off-grid solar project financing. Representation of local African founders, and female founders, remains a challenge in the African startup funding space. While it is a positive sign that African companies are attracting international investors’ attention, only 20 percent of private investment into African startups and companies came from Africa-based investors during the last five years. Further, eight of the top 10 African startups that attracted the most capital in 2019 were led by foreigners. These figures get more concerning when considering the number of women-led or co-founded startups in Africa. Although 25 percent of all sub-Saharan African women are engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity, women-led startups receive a fraction of the investments compared with their man-led counterparts. This year’s projected drop in funding for African startups is a perfect opportunity for the investment community to reflect on these trends and make changes for the coming surge of financing needed for the post-COVID recovery. The economic recoveries of African economies are underway , and investors can take advantage of strong positive economic trends that existed pre-COVID to invest in strategic sectors such as energy. Investing in African markets always has been associated with risk , but now the COVID-19 pandemic has made safe markets risky, and traditionally risky markets look attractive. Off-grid solar projects in Africa consistently have outraised their competitors in other countries, making Africa the leading global destination for off-grid solar investment. From China to the U.S ., geopolitical crises already were stressing major economies, and COVID accelerated this trend. Now, investors are increasingly looking elsewhere for stable returns and reassessing their risk profiles. Compared to traditional markets, Africa is young , connected , entrepreneurial and poised for immense growth through regional integration via the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which will create the world’s largest free trade area. Renewable energy is a priority sector for Africa’s post-COVID recovery because small and midsize enterprises need reliable and clean energy to get back to business and continue growing. Over $200 million in funding last year went to energy sector startups. Off-grid solar projects in Africa consistently have outraised their competitors in other countries, making Africa the leading global destination for off-grid solar investment. The importance of off-grid and mini-grid projects will only grow as they are the most cost-effective way to bring hundreds of millions of Africans without electricity online and reinforce power supplies for businesses. DFIs and investors should prioritize supporting African-led renewable energy companies to achieve stable returns, close the energy access gap and elevate African founders. Despite expanding programs for solar energy financing, outdated risk analyses keep critical funding out of the hands of African entrepreneurs. Some of the largest off-grid solar companies in Africa are co-founded and backed by Western CEOs and investors. Thinking that local African firms with market expertise cannot deliver the same returns with the same, if not better, risk profiles are outdated. More developed economies do not have a monopoly on talent either. African talent, combined with recruited international talent, can result in world-class teams to lead companies capitalizing on the African solar opportunity. Africa’s off-grid solar sector represents a $24 billion annual opportunity, and the continent faces a significant energy gap. DFIs can serve as bridges between the private sector and governments by expanding credit enhancement services to hedge against project risk. These institutions already have several tools at their disposal to help investors hedge against risk, including credit and political risk guarantees, and serving as lenders of record for project financing to secure favorable loans using their preferred credit status. Promoting technology transfer and local content is a stated priority of DFIs. The best way to accomplish these objectives is by supporting African companies in securing investment. The golden age of African investment is just beginning. However, real developmental impact in critical sectors such as solar energy cannot occur without local empowerment and African firms taking a leading role. Investors are running out of excuses: African companies can be competitive, profitable and world-class when given the support they merit from capital markets and DFIs. Pull Quote Off-grid solar projects in Africa consistently have outraised their competitors in other countries, making Africa the leading global destination for off-grid solar investment. Topics Renewable Energy Africa Entrepreneurship Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Solar panels in the African country of Zimbabwe. Photo by Shutterstock/Sebastian Noethlichs

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Investors are failing African entrepreneurs — it’s time for a change

Let me drone on a moment about drones for agriculture or forestry

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Let me drone on a moment about drones for agriculture or forestry Heather Clancy Thu, 02/25/2021 – 00:05 As more corporate sustainability teams cultivate projects to restore biodiversity and degraded landscapes or to nurture soil carbon sequestration and other nature-based climate solutions, interest in drone technologies that can weed out the best opportunities is flourishing. In early February, DroneDeploy, which has an active forestry practice, closed $50 million in late-stage venture funding. That brings its total backing (so far) to $142 million, more than any other drone data and software company. One declared use for this latest infusion of money is acquisition targets, which isn’t surprising given the anticipated boom in commercial drone usage: One forecast provides revenue related just to ag drones will reach about $5.9 billion by 2026 , a compound annual growth rate of close to 30 percent over the next five years. “The health, economic and workforce pressures of the last year have accelerated the adoption of drones and drone data by asset owners,” noted John Trough, managing partner of Energize Ventures, which led the DroneDeploy round with AirTree, in a statement. “We anticipate continued growth as industries expand their use of visual data to streamline operations.” One example of how DroneDeploy is being used for sustainable agriculture — its customers have so far mapped 55 million acres — is its new relationship with Corteva Agriscience , which apparently owns one of the largest ag drone fleets in the world with more than 600 at its command. As part of the pact, DroneDeploy is licensing the artificial intelligence and machine learning software that Corteva uses to detect crop issues at an early stage of emergence.  Another drone company more explicitly focused on land restoration is Dendra Systems, which is working with mining companies including BHP, Glencore and Rio Tinto to clean up and restore degraded habitats. One of the company’s jaw-dropping claims: 10 of its drones, flying in a swarm, can plant up to 300,000 trees per day, compared with 2,000 that could be propagated using “traditional” methods. It figures that up to 25 percent of the Earth’s land has been degraded, a datapoint it aims to reduce. Dendra raised $10 million in Series A funding in September from investors including Airbus. It owns and operates its own fleet — its corporate customers hire its services for analysis or seeding applications — and uses artificial intelligence and high-resolution data capture to map land and come up with a restoration plan that takes into account a region’s unique biodiversity needs. According to the company, which has roots in the U.K. and Australia, it can identify up to 120 species of flora and fauna from its aerial vantage points. I asked Dendra CEO Susan Graham how a corporate sustainability organization might use her company’s services. “Companies that have restoration goals could financially sponsor initiatives with local communities, NGOs and other land managers and onboard Dendra as the technology partner to support the environmental managers and accelerate the restoration efforts,” she responded via email.  Graham added that the systems also can provide a good check on those investments. “Our systems enable financial sponsors to monitor the outcomes of their investment closely across multiple projects, ensuring it is on track to meet objectives, as well as exhibiting accountability and transparency to stakeholders. The information we provide is key to determine where to invest in restoration and the value you get from doing that.” Glencore, a customer since 2018, notes that one of the biggest benefits of using the drones is their ability to navigate and gather intelligence about remote or hard-to-reach landscapes. One site where Dendra’s technology is being used actively is Lord Howe Island, off the coast of New South Wales, where the drones are helping eliminate invasive species including rodents and weeds such as cherry guava, sweet pittosporum and ground asparagus, which can outcompete native plants for nutrients.  “Dendra Systems is bringing new technology to the island which is significantly accelerating the rate at which we can identify invasive weeds that threaten our natural fauna and degrade habitats,” noted Sue Bower, flora and weed management officer with the island’s board. “This project will help build Lord Howe Island’s ecological resilience in the face of a changing climate.” There are many commercial drone companies, of course. Aside from Dendra and DroneDeploy, two other organizations with an explicit focus on agriculture, biodiversity or habitat management are Sentera , which supports agronomists, seed dealers and growers, and AgEagle Aerial Systems , which gathers crop information and even has a specialized service for hemp growers. I’d love to know about others that would be of interest to the GreenBiz community. You can email suggestions to heather@greenbiz.com . Pull Quote Our systems enable financial sponsors to monitor the outcomes of their investment closely across multiple projects, ensuring it is on track to meet objectives, as well as exhibiting accountability and transparency to stakeholders. Topics Information Technology Food & Agriculture Forestry Drones Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Dendra drones in action. Image courtesy of Dendra Systems

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Let me drone on a moment about drones for agriculture or forestry

HempWood offers a sustainable wood alternative with endless applications

February 24, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

With an educational background in vinyl siding and wood flooring, Fibonacci owner Greg Wilson has developed HempWood, an American-produced wood material made from a fast-growing agricultural product. Hemp has long been acclaimed for its versatility, but regulations in the United States have historically hampered research and development on the material. Now, hemp may be the material surrounding you inside your home. Replacing wood with other natural materials The company’s name is Fibonacci, although it’s now mostly known as HempWood with a focus on its primary product. No trees were harmed in the making of HempWood, since it is made of all-natural, U.S.-grown hemp, and the uses are just beginning to take shape.  Related: Levi’s announces product line made with Cottonized Hemp In the grand scheme of things, HempWood sees the opportunity to sit alongside the major players in the wood industry. Its current products include flooring, furniture, countertops and accent walls. Basically anything for indoor use made out of hardwoods, tropical woods, cork or other agricultural products, such as bamboo and eucalyptus , can be made using HempWood instead. Wilson originally worked in China with another plant-to-product material, bamboo. While great for many things, bamboo lacked strength as a commercial product. Wilson was part of a team that unlocked a process that turned bamboo into a more durable product. Later, he used a similar process in working with strand wood eucalyptus. As hemp availability and an interest in the possibilities for the material grew, Wilson moved back to the U.S. and opened shop in Kentucky to use his prior experiences in the advancement of hemp development. The environmental impact of hemp Even with Wilson’s prior dealings with similarly behaving materials, hemp has presented some unique challenges. Plus, launching a business in 2020 was no easy feat. Wilson told Cool Hunting in a recent interview, “It’s all based off this one algorithm that allows you to transform a plant fiber into a wood composite,” he explained. “You’ve got to modify it a little bit for the different fiber coming in, but for hemp we’ve also had to duck and weave around government regulation, COVID, wildfires and everything else 2020 has to offer.” Wilson and his team were already aware of the sustainability aspects of hemp, like the fact that plants grow quickly and are ready for harvest in only 120 days. Compared to traditional tree-based woods such as oak, hickory and maple that grow for hundreds of years, hemp can provide a renewable option for the wood industry. Plus, as a plant, hemp naturally helps create cleaner air by removing carbon and releasing oxygen. Hemp’s versatility means every part of the plant is used, leaving no waste behind. While HempWood primarily relies on the bottom part of the plant, the upper parts of thhe plant has other commercial uses, such as chicken feed. From a sustainability aspect, HempWood offers additional advantages. Harvesting trees damages the natural habitat of plants and animals . For example, removing a single large oak tree takes away a food and housing source. Plus, it eliminates protection for the plants growing underneath it. Forests are a carefully balanced ecosystem, so removing a single component can easily upset the stability within the region. As an agricultural product, hemp doesn’t have that lasting effect.  As a bio-based product, HempWood avoids creating future issues with its natural ability to biodegrade . Even the non-toxic, soy-based adhesive can dissolve back into the soil. “It’s a wood-composite comprised of greater than 80% hemp fiber,” Wilson explained. “We take the whole stalk and put it through a crushing machine which breaks open the cell structure. Then we dunk it into these enormous vats of soy protein, mixed with water and with the organic acid used by the paper towel industry. It’s essentially papier-mâché.” Corporate responsibility Fibonacci chose a location within 100 miles of the hemp farms it relies on for materials. This decreases transportation costs and the carbon emissions that result from shipping materials across the country. The company is currently looking into expanding with more facilities to create a web of strategically placed hubs on each coast and around the U.S. Inside the HempWood facility, the company is committed to a small carbon footprint . In addition to basic steps like using low-consuming LED bulbs throughout the buildings, the company has installed a bio-burner. This device not only vents heat throughout the facility, but it also provides energy savings and comprehensive waste reduction by burning material off-cuts onsite. The team at HempWood has enjoyed promoting an alternative for the green building community as well as creating a base product that people can get creative with. Customers report making many types of products out of the material, including duck calls, art projects, bowls and picture frames. There is no cap on the number of applications this material can be used for in the building industry and beyond. + HempWood Images via HempWood

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HempWood offers a sustainable wood alternative with endless applications

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