Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

June 1, 2020 by  
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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause? Joel Makower Mon, 06/01/2020 – 00:00 If you were to believe the mainstream business media, there would be no question whatsoever that the twin crises of a pandemic and a recession have pretty much put the kibosh on sustainable business activity. I mean, why, amid all this human and economic carnage, should companies be focused on anything besides keeping their doors open? Last month, for example, the Wall Street Journal published a piece (“Sustainability Was Corporate America’s Buzzword. This Crisis Changes That”) proclaiming that when it comes to corporate commitments and programs, “executives have called a timeout.” It said in part: Today, every occupant of every C-suite is trying to figure out what they’re willing to throw overboard as the economic storm spawned by the pandemic is swamping their ships. Businesses that were planning to help save the world are now simply saving themselves. Among the Journal’s proof points: General Motors put the brakes on a car-sharing program, Starbucks washed its hands of filling reusable coffee mugs and “companies have delayed sustainability reports.” Yes, we get it: No one wants to share a vehicle with strangers or refill an unwashed coffee mug during a pandemic. No question those programs should be “thrown overboard,” at least temporarily. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. All of which, my friends, is the editorial equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard: something so dissonant with reality that it makes my head hurt. The reality is that corporate sustainability is alive and well. Unlike previous economic downturns, sustainability isn’t being jettisoned in the spirit of corporate cost-savings. It’s being kept alive as part of a pathway back to profitability. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Need proof that reports of the death of sustainability are premature? Let’s begin with a few headlines: Southern Company commits to net-zero emissions by 2050 Microsoft committed to protect more land than it operates on globally by 2025 Citigroup to halt all financing for thermal coal mining by 2030 Shell plans to achieve net-zero emissions across its product manufacturing operations Mattel launches latest sugarcane-based products Volvo and Daimler launch €1.2 billion fuel cell truck joint venture General Mills commits to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 All of those happened in April. April! The Lost Month. When jobs and economic activity essentially went poof. When more than 190,000 humans died of COVID-19 globally, nearly five times the number one month earlier, and more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs. When the U.S. services sector posted its biggest contraction in more than a decade and the price of oil turned negative for the first time in history. When the global economy essentially sank like a stone as people world over sheltered in place. April! Okay, you say, April coincides with Earth Day, when companies traditionally strut their sustainability stuff. Thus, it’s not a good indicator. Fair enough. In that case, here are some headlines from May: Total pledges to deliver net-zero operations by mid-century Campbell Soup to transition to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2030 Dunkin’ switches to plastic-free cups and plans to double number of green restaurants French corporates call for “green and inclusive recovery” BNP Paribas accelerates “complete coal exit” plan Intel’s 2030 commitments include “shared” climate and social goals More than 300 companies push U.S. Congress to promote climate action Pernod Ricard moves up ban on single-use plastics to 2021 ADM to pioneer biofuels, more carbon capture projects Over 150 global corporations urge world leaders for net-zero recovery from COVID-19 Siemens Gamesa unveils plans for “world’s largest wind turbine” Google to stop making AI tools for oil and gas extraction Half of Cargill’s sustainable cocoa now traceable from farm to factory I could go on; there’s more where these came from. Still, this baker’s dozen of storylines provides a peek into what happened in the 31 days just ended, well before most cities and states have started to reopen. Another data point, albeit anecdotal: The 90 or so members of our GreenBiz Executive Network — sustainability leaders at large companies — remain firmly in their jobs. Sure, there’s been some churn — both comings and goings — but that’s normal. There seem to be precious few layoffs among these professionals. That could change if the downturn drags on, but so far, so good.  Five easy pieces So, why is sustainability still going strong within the private sector amid this terrifying time? Five reasons: 1. Corporate sustainability is a long-term evolution. As several of the above headlines suggest, companies are making commitments into 2025, 2030 and beyond. That means they have set the wheels in motion for long-term structural change. These changes generally don’t come and go based on quarterly cycles. 2. Companies understand that sustainability engenders resilience by making supply chains more transparent, operations more efficient and, increasingly, improving the ability of operations to withstand or recover from calamities of all types. 3. Investors see sustainability as material. Largely because of No. 2 above, institutional shareholders see sustainability performance as a proxy for a well-managed company that is taking a risked-based approach to strategy and investing. And they’re not shy about letting companies know this. 4. There’s a growing call for a business-led “green recovery” to revive economies around the world and help them prepare for the next likely pandemic: climate change. While the Green New Deal isn’t yet getting traction in Washington, D.C., some of its components already are being tucked into the recovery legislation. And in Europe, “green recovery” is already a mainstream meme . 5. Companies understand that the world is watching. They want to be able to attract and retain customers and talent — to be seen as part of the solution or at least not part of the problem. True, we’ve been hearing this for years, and there is strong evidence that job shoppers and seekers have been seeking out “good” companies. But the times have ratcheted up those concerns. In a world where talent, both young and experienced, are drawn to employers that are helping address the world’s problems, who will want to work for your company? Of course, it’s not all a rosy scenario. Clean energy jobs have been decimated . Hiring is on hold for many open corporate sustainability positions. More than a few sustainable business professionals are devoting their time these days to the pandemic, to ensure the well-being of employees, suppliers, customers and others, and that facilities will be healthy places to work once the recovery kicks in. Some are itching to get back to their “day job.” But let’s stop and briefly celebrate the moment: Corporate sustainability continues, largely unhindered, during some of the worst moments in modern human history. Its value and importance are being seen as central to addressing the economic, environmental and social problems we face, and to increasing societal resilience to the next wave of shocks, in whatever form they take. And, little by little, companies are stepping up to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities. Okay, enough celebrating. It’s time to get back to the hard work still to be done. Pull Quote For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Topics Leadership State of the Profession Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz, via Shutterstock Close Authorship

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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

The COVID-19 recovery requires a resilient circular economy

May 29, 2020 by  
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The COVID-19 recovery requires a resilient circular economy Jocelyn Bleriot Fri, 05/29/2020 – 01:00 The COVID-19 crisis has disastrous human and economic consequences, revealing our system’s exposure to a variety of risks. The call for a more resilient, circular and low-carbon economic model has garnered support from a growing number of businesses and governments over the past few years, and appears today more relevant than ever. Identifying opportunities, keeping a clear sense of direction and fostering a strong public-private collaboration will help usher in redefined growth towards the next wave of prosperity. As the pandemic forces us to adapt our daily lives in ways we would not have imagined, it also challenges us to rethink the systems that underpin the economy. While there is no question that addressing public health consequences is the priority, the nature of the equally crucial economic recovery effort raises some interrogations. Should stimulus packages focus on finding the way back to growth by kicking business as usual into overdrive, or could they accelerate the shift that has already started towards a more resilient, low-carbon circular economy? One way to tackle this polarizing question is to reject the idea that rapidly getting back to economic dynamism is incompatible with a wider system transition. Given the sums at play and the unprecedented — in peace times — rise in prominence of public authorities, this isn’t a simple equation to resolve, yet there are signs of agreement on the horizon. While the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has declared it will devote its entire activities to addressing the economic impact of the pandemic , the Investor Agenda group, which collectively manages trillions of dollars in assets, said that “Governments should avoid the prioritization of risky, short-term emissions-intensive projects.” As witnessed in countries severely hit by the virus, being able to quickly adapt industrial facilities and shift production — of automotive to medical equipment parts, for example — has been crucial. The recovery effort will, of course, require a variety of strategies. Looking at the pre-COVID-19 landscape, it is clear that momentum already had been increasing around the need for a system reset, with a visible consensus on the potential of a circular model. Over the course of the last decade, a number of leading businesses have stepped onto and invested in this transformative path, while pioneering institutions and government bodies put forward significant legislative proposals to enable the transition. This is notably true in the European Union and in China but it plays out in other regions as well, at national and municipal levels with the same degree of vitality. Far from pushing that agenda to the bottom of the list, the current crisis makes the circular economy more relevant than ever, as it holds a significant number of economically attractive answers. The early stages of the COVID-19 crisis have revealed the brittleness of many global supply chains, not limited to but illustrated by medical equipment availability issues, for example. In this specific case, circular principles provide credible solutions: design and product policy factors such as repairability , reusability and potential for remanufacturing offer considerable opportunities in resilience (stock availability) and competitiveness. It is notably telling that the global refurbished medical devices market is expected to grow by over 10 percent a year between 2020 and 2025 , which represents market opportunities as well as increased asset use rates (therefore less reliance on new raw materials). The importance of these strategies notably have been highlighted in the U.S., where several state treasurers have urged ventilator makers to make service manuals and repair-related resources available to help hospitals deal with the crisis. This has cost reduction implications which will appeal to cash-strapped public health authorities, but is also conducive to lowering the greenhouse gas footprint, as remanufacturing has been shown by the United Nations’ International Resource Panel to reduce emissions by over 80 percent in key sectors. As witnessed in countries severely hit by the virus, being able to quickly adapt industrial facilities and shift production — of automotive to medical equipment parts, for example — has been crucial. Factoring in that flexibility upstream — by designing both tooling and products to be repurposable and versatile — could be a way to enhance value-creation potential and achieve greater resilience of industry, both valuable beyond the current situation. Another domain in which circular economy appears particularly relevant is the highly sensitive area of food production and distribution. It is well documented that the current industrial agricultural model yields outputs of questionable quality, relies on fossil fuels and practices that are damaging to ecosystems, and is built around supply chains that involve long-distance transport that make it vulnerable to border closures. The dependency on seasonal foreign workforces servicing industrial scale production centers is also problematic in that regard, and farmers across Europe already have warned they probably will need to forget about this year’s crop season due to labor shortages. In certain cities, hastily implemented lockdowns have stressed food supply and emphasized the need for shorter producer-to-consumer models, which have seen a sudden rise in uptake (French) . It therefore appears timely to further explore the potential of large-scale investment in regenerative , peri-urban production, together with digitally enabled precision agriculture. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s research has highlighted , a circular scenario could lead to a 50 percent reduction of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer use by 2030 in Europe (compared to 2012 levels), while resulting in a 12 percent drop in household expenditure and better products. Finally, regenerative agriculture is also a powerful force in the climate crisis mitigation arsenal, as circular economy strategies could reduce emissions by 5.6 billion tonnes CO2e , corresponding to a 49 percent reduction in the projected 2050 total food system emissions. As we gradually get a better understanding of the economic ramifications of the pandemic, the ways in which a circular model can contribute to the recovery will be more detailed, and implementation plans more defined. These two specific examples only constitute a small opening onto the wider possibilities presented by the circular economy when it comes to recovery plans, and there are many areas to explore: think for instance of the staggering amount of office space overcapacity, and what modular design and use patterns could achieve in terms of reduced materials and energy consumption. As governments are looking for ways to move forward, they can do so without straying from their low-carbon commitments by implementing circular economy strategies — this rings true in the construction sector, for example, as building renovation quickly imposed itself as an obvious immediate win, combining a de facto local activity boost with a necessary efficiency upgrade. At the municipal level, some COVID-19 specific measures already have been taken around mobility and transport . Brussels, for example, has given more space to pedestrians and cyclists and has limited the speed of motor vehicles to 12.4 mph across the city . While this does not necessarily illustrate a circular development strategy per se, it shows that the need for change is acted on by policymakers , who quickly create the right conditions for new systems to emerge. In such a dynamic context, circular economy solutions can find the space to become mainstream, as the inherent wastefulness of the current model is highlighted. To stick with mobility, even before business as usual was challenged, private vehicles in Europe were sat idle 92 percent of the time. It’s therefore not a stretch of the imagination to think that designing cities for alternative urban transport solutions and better use of urban public space will become key priorities. As we gradually get a better understanding of the economic ramifications of the pandemic, the ways in which a circular model can contribute to the recovery will be more detailed, and implementation plans more defined. Short-term answers already are available, such as the ones highlighted above for food systems or decentralized production, yet it is fundamental to recognize that the effort will need to be sustained, and that its success will rely on the involvement of all stakeholders, working in a logic of co-creation. As governments step up to address the most pressing issues, setting a clear direction and enabling private sector circular innovation to reach scale will allow us to combine economic regeneration, better societal outcomes and climate ambitions. Pull Quote As witnessed in countries severely hit by the virus, being able to quickly adapt industrial facilities and shift production — of automotive to medical equipment parts, for example — has been crucial. As we gradually get a better understanding of the economic ramifications of the pandemic, the ways in which a circular model can contribute to the recovery will be more detailed, and implementation plans more defined. Topics Circular Economy Risk & Resilience Supply Chain COVID-19 Resilience Policy & Politics Ellen MacArthur Foundation Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Source: Paulo Carrolo/Unsplash

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The COVID-19 recovery requires a resilient circular economy

Ceres CEO and President Mindy Lubber on crossing the sustainability-investor chasm

February 29, 2020 by  
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2019 saw an unprecedented growth in interest in and consideration for ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues from companies, investors and now government, with the first congressional hearing on ESG issues in the United States held in July. This trend signals a growing recognition that climate change is not only detrimental to our environment, but also to our economic system, and that many issues that were once considered non-financial are now seen as financially material.

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Ceres CEO and President Mindy Lubber on crossing the sustainability-investor chasm

Could these strategies fix capitalism?

January 22, 2020 by  
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A radical transformation of our economic systems is now inevitable.

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Could these strategies fix capitalism?

Why Google, and the business world, are embracing the circular economy

June 19, 2019 by  
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Google, and others, are realizing the economic power of the circular economy.

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Why Google, and the business world, are embracing the circular economy

The rise of seatech — a new world wide web

June 19, 2019 by  
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IoT, big data, blockchain and biotech are powering a wave of sustainable seafood.

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The rise of seatech — a new world wide web

Stay home from work to save the planet, study says

May 23, 2019 by  
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Need an excuse to stay home from work? How about new research findings that a shorter work week is essential to combating climate change ? European think tank Autonomy recommends that employees in the U.K. work far fewer hours in order to avoid a climate crisis. In fact, the think tank recommends people work only nine hours per week! Although a nine-hour work week might sound too good to be true, there are many experts who are pushing for a four-day work week as a compromise. After the economic recession in 2008, Utah became the first state in the U.S. to experiment with a mandatory four-day work week — and found many benefits. The newest findings are based on greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to decarbonize the economy. Autonomy is careful to say that a reduced work week is only one out of many ingredients that should go into a comprehensive and urgent plan to reduce carbon emissions. Related: 9 ways to introduce nature into your dull workspace “Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies — a shorter working week being just one of them,” Autonomy director Will Stonge told The Guardian. “This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like.” The benefits of working reduced hours include both environmental and social impacts. With a shorter work week, fewer people would commute, which would significantly reduce transportation-related carbon emissions and improve air quality . According to the report, a “1 percent decrease in working hours could lead to a 1.46 percent decrease in carbon footprint.” Additionally, fewer workers would also mean fewer goods produced and resources used, which would ultimately be more sustainable than our current rate of over-consumption. Being overworked also encourages unsustainable habits by stressed and rushed employees, such as driving instead of walking or buying ready-made meals packaged with single-use plastic instead of cooking. Evidence also suggests that working shorter hours would improve employees’ mental health and well-being without losing productivity. Employees would have more time to exercise, cook, relax and build social ties, enabling improved focus while on the job. Employers likely aren’t going to buy the argument for a nine-hour work week any time soon, but the report confirms similar findings that “the climate crisis calls for an unprecedented decrease in the economic activity that causes GHG emissions,” or in other words, the “necessity to be lazy” — or at the very least a reconsideration of how industrial societies have defined lazy. Via The Guardian Image via Freddie Marriage

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Stay home from work to save the planet, study says

Sharing power: renewables, resilience and redefining beauty

June 28, 2018 by  
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On average, the poorest 20% pay the most for electricity — that’s 10% of total household income. Community power and community storage will transform access to affordable clean energy for low-income households, if we deploy equitable project finance models that scale with the market instead of depending on subsidies. Leaders from around the world discuss new project development and finance models that are transforming the economic and energy landscape in their communities.

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Sharing power: renewables, resilience and redefining beauty

Day 3 Welcome: Senator Hirono

June 28, 2018 by  
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Kicking off the third day with a message from special guest, Senator Hirono.

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Day 3 Welcome: Senator Hirono

Planning for a resilient Hawaii

June 28, 2018 by  
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Energy innovation, infrastructure investments, and emerging technology are integral to Hawaii’s future energy capability.

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Planning for a resilient Hawaii

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