Mars claims palm oil is ‘deforestation-free’ after ditching hundreds of suppliers

October 7, 2020 by  
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Mars claims palm oil is ‘deforestation-free’ after ditching hundreds of suppliers Cecilia Keating Wed, 10/07/2020 – 00:15 U.S. confectionary, food and pet care giant Mars claims to have eliminated deforestation from its palm oil supply chain after shrinking the number of mills it works with from 1,500 to a few hundred, it announced this week. The adoption of shorter, more transparent palm oil supply chains and working exclusively with suppliers that meet specific environmental, social and ethical standards has made it easier for the company to keep track of its palm oil supply chain, which the company said is no longer contributing to the destruction of tropical forests as a result. Mars said it had reached its goal after a concerted effort to trim the number of mills it works with from 1,500 last year, and it expects to be working with less than 100 in 2021 and under 50 in 2022. The destruction of rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations is a major contributor to climate change and nature loss, due to the crucial role of richly biodiverse tropical forests in sequestering carbon dioxide, absorbing rainfall and releasing water into rivers. But while many food companies, including Mars, have pledged to reduce deforestation through their supply chain to net-zero by the end of this year through a 2010 commitment to the Consumer Goods Forum, environmental groups have warned the progress remains slow and the large majority of companies are on track to miss their target. Business can — and must — be powerful change agents for social and environmental change in order to have resilient, reliable supply chains and a more equitable and sustainable world. Mars chief executive officer Grant Reid said the pandemic had underscored how global supply chains were “broken” and stressed that there was an “urgent need for business to transform buying and supply strategies and practices” if the world was to address environmental and social challenges.  “Business as usual will not drive the transformational change that’s needed,” Reid said. “Business can — and must — be powerful change agents for social and environmental change in order to have resilient, reliable supply chains and a more equitable and sustainable world.” Mars said it had achieved the milestone using satellite mapping to monitor land use with third-party validation from sustainable production consultancy Aidenvironment and its Indonesian spinoff Earth Equalizer. Barry Parkin, chief procurement and sustainability officer at Mars, said that the firm was hoping that its achievement would have a ripple effect across the palm industry. “We at Mars have reached a significant milestone — but in order to extend this impact beyond our own supply, we are asking our suppliers that they apply these principles to all the palm oil that they source not just the material they supply to us,” he said. “Through this action, and if adopted by others, we can reach a tipping point to drive systemic change across the entire palm industry.” Mars’ efforts to simplify its supply chain builds on the company’s ongoing effort to eliminate deforestation and degradation from the beef, cocoa, palm oil, soy and pulp and paper supply chains through its work with the Consumer Goods Forum. Tropical Forest Alliance executive director Justin Adams commended the multinational for achieving net-zero deforestation in its palm supply chain, but warned that collective action would be needed to takle problems across the global sector. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the company over the last 10 years, and we need to see more companies embrace the logic of the three-M model — map, manage, monitor — that they have laid out,” he said. “But Mars’ success today also highlights the limits of individual leadership. We can only stop deforestation by working collectively in key production landscapes and across the entire sector.” Pull Quote Business can — and must — be powerful change agents for social and environmental change in order to have resilient, reliable supply chains and a more equitable and sustainable world. Topics Forestry Food & Agriculture Deforestation BusinessGreen Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Palm fruits by tristan tan via Shutterstock

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Mars claims palm oil is ‘deforestation-free’ after ditching hundreds of suppliers

How transforming the mica supply chain transforms lives

October 6, 2020 by  
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How transforming the mica supply chain transforms lives Joel Makower Tue, 10/06/2020 – 02:11 Second of two parts. Read Part One here . For those coming from the western world, visiting Jharkhand and other towns in India’s mica belt can be a jolting experience. For one thing, mica is everywhere. “If you visited these places where mica is plentiful, the ground is literally shimmering. You can dig a hole anywhere with your hands and start to come upon big chunks of this very pretty, very shiny rock,” according to Leonardo Bonnani, founder and CEO of Sourcemap. He explained to me how mica moves through the community. “Effectively, they will mine as much as they can either informally, anywhere that they find it, or working in and around mines that are ostensibly closed or off-limits. They get on the property and they start digging a hole about as big as a person or as big as a family. And then they take the mica to a local warehouse. This can be a very small operation, the size of a single-family home, where people are basically sorting it out into different grades and qualities, cleaning out the impurities and then bagging it onto trucks to be transported to factories where it’s actually refined. Being on their ground is incredibly powerful and humbling, and really makes you understand the true impact of the work and why it’s important to be doing it. “That’s where they do the grinding and coloring; sometimes they fire-treat it. They do all sorts of things to get the right colors and textures that industry is looking for. And it’s those surprisingly small operations that are aggregating the mica, not far from where it’s mined, that have not yet been really mapped or audited.” Setting foot in Jharkhand was an eye-opener for Sasha Calder, director of sustainability at the cosmetics company Beautycounter. “There’s a lot of jargon or technical ways of thinking about some of these challenges, but being on their ground and seeing the personal impacts on folks’ lives is incredibly powerful and humbling, and really makes you understand the true impact of the work and why it’s important to be doing it.” Among her first impressions: “We were traveling down the streets, which are glittering with mica, and seeing really young kids walking, carrying mica home on their heads. And realizing and how different of a world it felt compared to how growing up in California was for me.” Most of all, it was the extreme poverty. Jharkhand has made great strides in bringing down the number of poor, reducing the incidence of poverty from 75 percent to 46 percent in the 10 years ending in 2016, but the state has lagged behind other Indian states in reducing poverty, according to the World Bank . It notes: “Poverty is among the highest in the country today, particularly in the state’s southern and eastern districts,” which includes the mica belt. Making connections On the ground in Jharkhand, Calder set out to understand the human impact on the communities themselves. “We interviewed workers at the mines to understand how different communities are structured and what matters to them, what are their challenges and opportunities, and how they are organizing for change. We wanted to get a better understanding of the local government’s role in providing critical infrastructure, electricity, water, education and nutritional needs.” One factor she encountered there was climate change. “There have been increasing storms and droughts over the past years, and farmers have been pushed off their land, which isn’t as productive as it used to be,” Calder explained. “And so they’re turning to illegal mica mining to put food on the table. Many more folks are having their kids — who used to be supporting them in the fields — working in very harmful mica mining conditions to be able to purchase the food that they used to be producing in their own backyards. It was hard just seeing how this cycle continues to perpetuate itself.” To address the child-labor issue, Beautycounter forged a partnership with the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation , a nonprofit founded by the longtime human rights advocate, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for advocating for children’s rights for more than three decades. The Nobel committee cited Satyarthi’s “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” Kailash Satyarthi, via Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation The partnership aimed to help Beautycounter better understand the local politics and to support a comprehensive plan for the legalization of mica mining, which would increase supply-chain transparency and traceability. The company also committed to supporting the foundation’s Child-Friendly Villages model, which empowers young people to protect themselves from trafficking, forced labor and child marriages. All told, traveling to Jharkhand can be a tough experience for westerners. As Sourcemap’s Bonnani put it: “I go to some rough raw-material sourcing locations and this was by far the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of clear evidence of malnutrition and child labor.” But there can be moments of joy. At one point, Calder visited a local school and met with the children in the community. As she tells it: “We were sitting around in kind of a formal setting. We were asking questions about their daily lives and you could just tell that there was both excitement but also nervousness and uncomfortableness in the room. So I shifted the conversation instead to things that matter most to kids. What do you like to do? What games do you like to play? Beautycounter sustainability director Sasha Calder plays games with the locals in Jharkhand, India, courtest Beautycounter “Immediately, the whole room’s energy shifted. And they told me about this game that they play out in the fields and I said, ‘Great, let’s go.’ And so the whole community — probably 100 of us — walked down the road together and they showed us how to play this game. And we went from not being able to speak the same language to laughing and giggling and poking fun at each other. It was just this beautiful reminder of the connection between all of us.” Opening the curtain As Calder began engaging with local mica miners and sellers, she was similarly met with initial resistance. “It’s really intimidating for folks to open up there, to open up their books or have you talk to their employees or go into their mines. It meant building trust early on by being completely transparent as a brand — of where we are in the journey, how we’re going to share that information. That was super critical, because once you have that trust, things move quickly.” “It’s all about building relationships,” she continued. Eventually, “People are inviting you into their homes, into their communities, and also opening the curtain behind their business. At the same time, there’s an angle of trying to understand and make sense of what has been historically a very complicated and secretive industry. So, it’s a delicate dance, but it really works best when there’s complete transparency.” It’s a delicate dance, but it really works best when there’s complete transparency. There’s no substitute for being there, she said. “When you’re on the ground, you see how mica mining impacts every part of these communities’ lives. And you get to connect more deeply as humans. It gets rid of thinking of people as statistics as you hear the stories of what matters to them, and how they want their families to be safe. And how connected we are.” Getting to transparency One result of the November 2019 trip to Jharkhand was the creation of a proprietary blockchain-based traceability tool, in which suppliers share their sourcing data with Sourcemap. Through the process, Beautycounter can then track consistency or inconsistencies in the volume of the supplier. Changes in volume or gaps of information raise red flags about how the mica is being produced. And because the blockchain creates an immutable record of each transaction, it can prevent illegally mined mica being passed off as legal. The blockchain solution “is a technology that has historically worked with both the coffee and chocolate industry to help create traceability in those supply chains,” Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice president of social mission, added. “And they’re working with us in partnership with our suppliers to help us be able to tell a story that a consumer can understand.” Sasha Calder and Leonardo Bonnani in Jharkhand, courtesy Beautycounter The blockchain solution is helping Beautycounter move closer to its first goal: physically visiting and auditing all of its mica mines and working with suppliers to implement responsible sourcing program goals. “By the end of this year, we will have audited all of our current mica suppliers and are currently in the process of phasing out a few products that have old suppliers that we’ve moved away from,” Dahl told me. “So, we’re kind of in that transition right now. And we have realistic expectations around what a fully traceable mica supply chain looks like, which is the next step after we have our audits done.” She acknowledges “that’s probably several years down the road just given the complexity.” Talking the talk Earlier this year, Beautycounter began to talk to its consumers — and, by extension, the world — about its mica initiatives. It was hardly the first company to do so. A range of other brands, from L’Oréal to Lush , have pages on their websites dedicated to answering frequently asked questions about mica and child labor. Beautycounter’s mica page goes beyond FAQs, offering information and resources not just to consumers but also to suppliers and public officials. It encourages visitors to “ask your elected officials to stop the importation of products produced using forced labor.” It also features a 12-minute video , much of it taken during Calder’s November trip to Jharkhand, about the company’s work in India. “We use the video to tell the story in the same way Patagonia has for apparel and other companies are trying to do,” Dahl said. “It’s just to say, we don’t have all the answers and that’s okay. The fact of the matter is we’re starting to ask the questions. And hopefully, that can start to normalize this kind of transparency journey for other brands. So, it feels less scary because the fear has been holding brands back for decades. And the fear and secrecy is what allows human rights abuses to perpetuate.” One goal of the company’s outreach on mica is to ensure that efforts to eliminate forced labor in mica supply chains is more than a check-the-box activity for other companies. I’m sure there’s a handful of companies that don’t want to ask the questions because they don’t want the answers. Because once you get the answers, you have to deal with it. “I think some brands think they are going deep,” Dahl explained. “And they just are taking their suppliers’ word for it. ‘Oh, you’re the expert, you’re the supplier, you’ve given me this thing that looks official. So why would I even need to dig even deeper?’ I think a lot of brands are just making assumptions that the information they’ve received is credible, and it gives them the confidence to feel like they’re making good decisions. And I’m sure there’s a handful of companies that don’t want to ask the questions because they don’t want the answers. Because once you get the answers, you have to deal with it.” She added: “At the end of the day, you’re never really sure who’s going to be struck by or be moved by a story and then change their consumer behavior as a result.” The power of one Among the things that Beautycounter has demonstrated is that the power of even one company — a small, privately held company at that — can be significant. “Beautycounter was very helpful,” Bonnani told me. “It helped get other industry stakeholders to start talking about mica. We’ve seen an uptick in interest from the auto industry, for example, even though they’re just buying paint that has mica in it. We’ve heard from half a dozen auto companies since Beautycounter made that documentary.” “We definitely get an uptick of requests or inquiries about mica sourcing after there’s a big headline about it,” Erin Turner, business development manager, Effect Pigments for Cosmetics, at BASF, told me. For a growing number of cosmetics companies, responsibly sourced mica is true to brand. “You see the little guys start to differentiate using mica sourcing,” said Turner, who works with Beautycounter on the final leg of mica’s journey: processing it into the form that’s needed to go into various cosmetics recipes. “We definitely see an uptick — not only questionnaires but requests for audits on site. “I think Beautycounter has been very brave in taking their customers along for the ride. And they say upfront, this is a messy journey. But we have to start somewhere. I think it’s very authentic the way that they’re bringing their customers along.” For Beautycounter, its mica journey is also part of this particular moment, as Lindsay Dahl explained. “I think in general, the cultural conversation around equity that’s happening across the country is asking people to think differently about the brands that they’re supporting. It’s also having people think about equity in very new ways. It feels more relevant for people to think, ‘Oh, wait, I actually do care about a family I’ve never met in India.’ It does kind of continue the conversation of caring about people at a very human level. It’s as simple as that.” I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote Being on their ground is incredibly powerful and humbling, and really makes you understand the true impact of the work and why it’s important to be doing it. It’s a delicate dance, but it really works best when there’s complete transparency. I’m sure there’s a handful of companies that don’t want to ask the questions because they don’t want the answers. Because once you get the answers, you have to deal with it. Topics Supply Chain Consumer Products Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Mica, through a child’s eye. All photos courtesy Beautycounter.

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How transforming the mica supply chain transforms lives

Digital technology, green finance in vogue among fashion’s sustainability trendsetters

August 5, 2020 by  
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Digital technology, green finance in vogue among fashion’s sustainability trendsetters Phylicia Wu Wed, 08/05/2020 – 01:00 The key to long-term success in the fashion industry is to start trends and continually push the envelope — a philosophy that also applies to its ESG priorities. The $2.5 trillion industry accounts for about 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions when considering the entire value chain — higher than the entire iron and steel manufacturing industry combined, for comparison. Without any intervention, that figure is projected to increase more than 60 percent by 2030. However, there is a growing and collective awareness of environmental impact across the industry. Companies are discovering sustainability is not just a fad, but a new standard that is here to stay.  A proliferation of greening initiatives from industry players has emerged with public announcements of policies to tackle this issue, measures to address their supply chain footprints, promotion of circular economy practices and encouragement for sustainable brands growing increasingly popular. However, despite these various green initiatives from several early trendsetters in the fashion industry, formidable challenges lay ahead on the path to scaling up sustainability — especially when it comes to supply chain strategies. The lack of environmental impact information and outdated technology are two ubiquitous issues plaguing industrial supply chains in general, but they are especially significant in the context of the fashion industry.  Due to highly price-competitive environments, upstream supply chain participants have little motivation to invest in improvements. Downstream supply chain participants that rarely have a personal stake, such as powerful brands and retailers, hardly encourage prioritization of sustainability upstream. These dynamics have led to the development of stagnant supply chains largely unable to respond to the urgency of the fashion industry’s significant carbon footprint.  Given that most emissions are produced along the supply chain, companies’ inability to monitor and track this data means that there is not a starting point to begin improving their environmental footprints. In particular, inadequate data collection infrastructure along the supply chain has resulted in a shortage of environmental data and information transparency. According to the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index survey, while 78 percent of brands have policies on energy and carbon emissions, only 16 percent publish data on the annual carbon footprints of their supply chain. Given that most emissions are produced along the supply chain, companies’ inability to monitor and track this data means that there is not a starting point to begin improving their environmental footprints.  The reluctance to upgrade to new technology can be partly attributed to thin operating margins of fashion supply chains leading to inefficiencies along the entire chain. One of the most candid illustrations of inefficiencies caused by antiquated technology is in the manufacturing process, where conventional practices still take 2,700 liters — or three years’ worth of drinking water — to make a typical cotton T-shirt.  Traditional manufacturers abide by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage, while the ultimate retailer of the shirt has no direct ties to the manufacturer. Thus even if the manufacturer had a sustainability policy, it would be difficult to enforce. When both upstream and downstream participants of the supply chain are at odds with modernization, it prevents the changes needed to respond to the climate impact of the industry.  But it is not all doom and gloom. This is where green finance and technology come in. Their dual adoption can begin to address the environmental data gaps and also boost efficiency for production processes in the supply chain that would usher along a much-needed evolution of the fashion industry towards greater sustainability.  Digital technology will play a pivotal role in addressing information transparency and environmental reporting in the fashion industry by facilitating data collection along the supply chain. Using blockchain and cloud-based technology, a number of startups are already laying the groundwork.  For example, blockchain platform Provenance helps trace and certify supply chains to enable ethical procurement decisions. Another startup, Galaxius, offers a cloud-based system that tracks supply chain activity from fabric orders to garment delivery. Beyond startups, fashion luxury giant Kering Group launched an app called My EP&L that tracks carbon emissions, water consumption and air and water pollution along its supply chain to educate designers and students on sustainable design principles. Recently, Stella McCartney and Google Cloud announced a partnership to determine the environmental impact of various types of raw materials. All of these efforts contribute to advancing data collection at different points along the supply chain and have the potential to provide unprecedented levels of transparency for the industry. Dated technology in the production phase of the supply chain creates significant challenges in two ways. The first is in more eco-friendly product material innovation. New textiles, alternative raw materials and sustainable dyeing methods are made possible through scientific and technological ingenuity.  For example, Tencel, a super-absorbent fiber made from wood pulp, offers a great alternative to synthetic activewear. Lenzing Group, producer of Tencel, also uses a closed-loop production process and sustainable dyeing technology in which solvents needed to make the fiber are recycled over and over again to produce new fibers. But the higher costs associated with upgrading machinery to produce more eco-friendly materials typically associated with such innovations hinders their wider acceptance.  The second challenge relates to upgrades and updates to the supply chain that boost efficiency, promote better resource allocation, identify potential cost savings, predict demand and provide other benefits that mitigate the industry’s environmental impact.  Startups such as Optoro and ShareCloth use artificial intelligence, machine learning and other emerging technologies to digitize processes to lower excess inventory and reduce textile waste. However, similar to the cost barriers that impede wider adoption of eco-friendly materials, these new technologies depend on customized machinery or entirely new production facilities, which may be more capital-intensive and require considerable new capital expenditures when compared to traditional manufacturing processes.  Just digital technology for supply chain improvements will not be enough. Fashion will need green finance to drive large-scale transformation. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that commercializing and scaling these innovations will require $20 billion to $30 billion of financing per year.  The Boston Consulting Group estimates that commercializing and scaling these innovations will require $20 billion to $30 billion of financing per year. Promising green finance developments in the fashion industry already are underway. Traditional lenders have begun to ink green bonds and sustainability-linked loans. In November, Prada became the first fashion company to sign a $59 million sustainability-linked loan with Crédit Agricole.  Under the terms of the loan, Prada can pay a reduced interest rate if it achieves targets related to the number of LEED Gold or Platinum-certified stores, the number of training hours employees receive, and the use of Prada Re-Nylon (regenerated nylon) in the production of goods. In February, VF Corporation closed its $591 million green bond, marking the first green bond issued in the industry.  Private equity investors are also paying attention to startup fashion brands. Just last year, The Carlyle Group made its first foray into the industry by acquiring a stake in Jeanologia, and Permira acquired a majority stake in the ethical fashion brand Reformation. In September 2019, the $30 million Good Fashion Fund launched, representing the first investment fund focused solely on driving the implementation of innovative solutions in the fashion industry.  Brands also have started to form corporate venture capital arms to create opportunities for green finance. Examples include Patagonia’s Tin Shed Ventures, launched as a $20 million fund in 2013, and H&M’s CO:LAB, which has made investments ranging from $1 million to $20 million in sustainable fashion.  Prada, by scaling and incentivizing its regenerated nylon technology through its green finance partnership with Credit Agricole, serves as a pioneer for the industry. However, the solutions offered by advancements in technology and green finance admittedly will need more buy-in from companies across the fashion world.  Some ideas that can move fashion in a greener direction include establishing long-term business strategies that incorporate plans for sustainable solutions, employing creative approaches to applying sustainability across supply chains and developing best practices for environmental data monitoring and reporting.  A recent press release from Google and WWF Sweden announcing plans to create an environmental data platform, the latest green financing deal by Moncler for up to $472 million that is tied to its environmental impact reduction targets and a similar arrangement by Salvatore Ferragamo for up to $295 million are welcome steps in the right direction, even in the midst of a global pandemic.  The future is indeed hopeful as sustainability continues to be championed across the industry and its supply chain. Green finance and digital technology will be increasingly critical drivers for the development of greener and more sustainable supply chains. The fashion industry always has been creative, innovative and bold in its designs; now is the time to channel these qualities to secure a fashionable future that is green and sustainable. This article was adapted from the Paulson Institute’s three-part series on sustainability in the fashion industry. Pull Quote Given that most emissions are produced along the supply chain, companies’ inability to monitor and track this data means that there is not a starting point to begin improving their environmental footprints. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that commercializing and scaling these innovations will require $20 billion to $30 billion of financing per year. Topics Corporate Strategy Supply Chain Fashion Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Digital technology, green finance in vogue among fashion’s sustainability trendsetters

Luxury apartments feature underground rec club and a massive green roof

July 22, 2020 by  
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The Excellenseaa 126 apartment complex is designed to create its own sustainable microclimate with a green roof and open spaces. Located in Surat, India, this luxury development houses 126 apartments within six 11-story buildings. Out of the 318,611-square-foot space, over 70% is landscaped, and the entire property centers around a large focal garden that stretches over 139,930 square feet. Apartments come in three different sizes, with layouts of up to five bedrooms and a private gym. About 80% of the plot is car-free , and vehicular movement is restricted to the complex’s perimeter and a basement car park available to residents. Each floor contains two apartments with a penthouse on top. Related: This apartment building in Staten Island has a 5,000-square-foot urban farm One of the most impressive elements of this apartment complex is the design of its partially subterranean recreation club. The central garden sits on top of expertly landscaped angular planes with clean lines to add a touch of modernity to the organic elements. Take a closer look, and the garden is, in actuality, a green roof covering the complex’s partially submerged communal area. The club includes entertainment facilities, conference rooms, a grocery store, a medical center, multiple sports facilities and play areas for children of different ages. A variety of water features, trees and plants gives the entire space a natural feel while assisting in passive cooling . The green roof design helps to shelter the club from solar heat gain while simultaneously allowing natural ventilation and light to pass through. Apartments themselves are kept cool and sheltered by 900-square-foot cantilevered decks that help facilitate cross ventilation in the warm months. This aspect comes especially in handy, as the area experiences temperatures topping 95 degrees Fahrenheit for eight months out of the year. The complex also utilizes water recycling, rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment and solar paneling to reduce its carbon footprint . + Sanjay Puri Architects Photography by Mr.Abhishek Shah via Sanjay Puri Architects

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Luxury apartments feature underground rec club and a massive green roof

Why global engagement is essential to sustainable supply chains

May 4, 2020 by  
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Four key considerations for infusing sustainability throughout your entire supply chain.

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Why global engagement is essential to sustainable supply chains

The new normal in sustainable investing post-COVID-19

May 4, 2020 by  
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The time has passed for small commitments, hyperbole and delays in embracing sustainable investing.

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The new normal in sustainable investing post-COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 on corporate reporting

May 4, 2020 by  
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The global pandemic is affecting risk disclosures and engagement with shareholders in several important ways.

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The impact of COVID-19 on corporate reporting

The many ways fungi are saving our planet

April 10, 2020 by  
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Fungi are living organisms that support the ecosystem of the entire planet. Most people associate mushrooms with fungi, but in reality, mushrooms merely make up the ‘flower’ portion of some species of fungi. Up to 90% of the fungi associated with the mushroom is underground as part of a web called mycelium . Scientists are continually discovering ways fungi enhance the circle of life. The mushroom and mycelium components of fungi are currently a hot topic in the research world, because there are already over 100,000 identified varieties with thousands more being discovered annually. Together, these fungi species are unlocking solutions for cleaning up the environment, developing greener construction and product materials and contributing significant medicinal benefits. What are fungi? Fungi are basically the digestive tract of the planet. As a carbon-based substance, fungi work in conjunction with all living or decaying things. Whether that is a tree that has fallen in the woods or an animal that dies along the side of the road, mycelium works below-ground to facilitate decomposition. Mycelium is a massive filter that removes toxins from the soil , improving water quality as a result. Related: How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable This network also cycles nutrients from one location to another, essentially transporting food and water from one plant to another. It’s also believed they send messages throughout the forest that support the success of other fungi as well as overall plant life. In scientific papers reviewed as recently as two months ago, evidence has come to light indicating fungal fossils may date back at least 715 to 810 million years and possibly even over one billion years ago. Whether that can be proven or not, most scientists accept that fungi have survived on the planet since at least 400 million years ago. Further, researchers give credit to fungi for their critical role in facilitating the continued existence of the planet. Fungi and climate change In addition to supporting the entire plant kingdom, fungi are recognized as a promising weapon in the fight against climate change . While some of these discoveries happen in a lab, others are happening in nature as we go about our daily lives. As outlined in a new documentary, Fantastic Fungi , fungi are indiscriminate in their consumption of organic material. As an example of this cycle, fungi can break down carbon-based diesel oil, growing mushrooms in its wake. Then birds, bees and bugs feed, spread seeds and pollinate as a result, supporting more than just the surrounding area. In fact, many scientists believe mushrooms might be one solution to ending the crisis bees are facing, because mushrooms’ antiviral characteristics may offer protection from damaging chemicals in other plants. Fungi can likely clean up other aspects of the environment, too. According to the State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report , the mushroom Aspergillus tubingensis has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastic and has properties that actually deteriorate the material. Yes, apparently some mushrooms can eat plastic . Even more amazing is the discovery that fungi were found consuming radiation off the walls of the abandoned Chernobyl plant. In fact, three species were found to be absorbing the radiation and turning it into energy for growth. In essence, they were feeding off radiation. Mushroom waste becomes biofuel Natural waste from mushroom production can also be converted into biofuel . According to research published in Science Advances , the research team revealed that a naturally occurring bacterium called Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum (TG57), isolated from waste generated after harvesting mushrooms, is capable of directly converting cellulose (a plant-based material) to biobutanol, leading to a much cleaner way to produce biofuel and reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Products made from fungi Product manufacturers are also looking toward fungi in material development due to properties that allow them to naturally decompose at the end of their life cycle. Fungi are being used as a substitute for environmental nemesis polystyrene foam , animal leather and chemical-laden building materials. One company, Coeio, has even created a mushroom-infused burial suit, explaining that a human body will break down faster and give back to the Earth sooner while the fungal properties filter out any toxic chemicals the body has acquired while living. Fungi for health Fungi are also in the spotlight for exciting medical advancements, such as treating anxiety and depression with psilocybin . Fungi could also help fight against cognitive decline, according to a recent study . Plus, fungi are already part of our everyday life in ways you may not even recognize. In addition to the mushrooms on your pizza , fungi are important for fermentation, which creates alcohol, leavened bread and much more. The list of possible ways fungi are saving our planet is nearly as long as the list of species themselves. With an increasing interest in research, the possibilities for finding innovative ways to use fungi in the future are exciting and promising. Images via Pixabay

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Beauty products can be more toxic for women of color — it’s time to change that

March 12, 2020 by  
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We should applaud the growing number of safer product commitments from retailers. But we need to ensure improvements happen across the entire beauty aisle.

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Beauty products can be more toxic for women of color — it’s time to change that

Fukushima on track to become a renewable energy hub

November 14, 2019 by  
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In hopes of reinventing its image, new life is breathing into Fukushima, the Japanese northeastern prefecture that was devastated by a 2011 tsunami and consequent nuclear power plant meltdown. Fukushima, which is Japan’s third largest prefecture, is revitalizing and transforming into a renewable energy hub. Eight years ago, in March 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami, overwhelming the Fukushima reactors and causing the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl incident. Decontamination of Fukushima’s nuclear plant and surroundings are ongoing. Related: Global renewable energy is projected to rise by 50% in the next 5 years, IEA finds Since 2011, both the Japanese state and Fukushima local governments have ramped up the prefecture’s renewable energy production. To meet the entire region’s needs with 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, endeavors are underway to cultivate and integrate clean energy sources like biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind. There are already investor plans to construct 11 new solar farms and 10 wind power plants on under-utilized farmlands and hillsides tainted by radiation. Development of these new solar and wind power plants will take place in the next five years, with the first solar plant being a 20-megawatt (MW) installation planned for Minamisoma. Estimated costs for all the green energy construction runs upward of 300 billion Japanese yen, or $2.75 billion in U.S. dollars. Financiers and stakeholders supporting the renewable energy hub construction include the state-run Development Bank of Japan and the private lender Mizuho Bank. The Japanese are optimistic about the electrical power that will be generated, given the region’s current trajectory. Back in 2012, Fukushima only generated 400 MW of electricity, then increased to 1 gigawatt (GW) in 2016. By 2018, Fukushima region’s combined electrical power generation from renewables reached 1.5 GW. The 21 new plants under construction are expected to bring additional 600 MW to Fukushima’s energy output, the equivalent to powering 114,000 average American households. A new, 50-mile wide grid is similarly in the works. Via the power transmission network of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the grid will connect and feed power from Fukushima into metropolitan areas of Japan’s capital, Tokyo, about 155 miles south of the prefecture. Cost projections for the grid are 29 billion yen, or $267 million. This new clean energy action plan is aligned with the Fukushima prefecture’s goal of having renewables supply 40 percent of its electricity demand by 2020, two-thirds by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. The end goal for 2040 is that the entire Land of the Rising Sun will be completely powered through renewable energy. Via Yale360 , Japan Times and Nikkei Asian Review Image via Andreas

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Fukushima on track to become a renewable energy hub

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