COVID-19 reduces UK carbon emissions by 30 million metric tons

August 4, 2020 by  
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Toward the end of March, the coronavirus pandemic began to take over in many European countries. Since then, major cities across the world have experienced some form of lockdown. While the virus has come at many costs, the lockdowns have had some positive environmental impacts. Research carried out by The Eco Experts between the months of March and July has revealed that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.K. dropped significantly — by 30 million metric tons — due to reduced travel and power consumption. The report shows that carbon emissions have dropped in five key areas: public transport, road vehicles, air travel, energy usage and pollution in London. In the past 3 months, public transport journeys have dropped to a mere 11.7% of normal levels, leading to 1.89 million metric tons less of carbon emissions. Further, road journeys decreased to 52.6% of normal levels, leading to a reduction of 15.2 million metric tons of carbon emissions. Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Besides public transport and road vehicles, the study also surveyed air transport and energy consumption throughout the U.K. It found that there were 295,713 fewer flights than normal. This led to a 6.9 million metric ton reduction in CO2 emissions. However, the study established that there has been an increase in domestic power consumption, which rose by 30%. On the flip side, the overall power consumption reduced by 15%, because of the reduction in power demand in businesses. Since March, most major industries have either been closed or have reduced production. Consequently, less power has been consumed over this period. In this sector, the U.K. has saved up to 6.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions . The reduction in power consumption and transport has impacted emissions in many cities. The analysis took a closer look at U.K.’s most polluted city, London, and found that the restrictions have led to a reduction of 1.17 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Further, there has been a 26% reduction in nitrogen dioxide in central London . Globally, there have been significant drops in greenhouse gas emissions over the past few months. As the world struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, it is a time to reflect and look for the positives. We could take some lessons from this pandemic that will help us care for the environment in the future. + The Eco Experts Image via Liushuquan

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The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture

July 30, 2020 by  
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The future of organic coffee: Building a network of support for regenerative agriculture Jean Orlowski Thu, 07/30/2020 – 02:00 Nearly a decade ago, as we took in the lush plant life, clean air and warm sunshine surrounding us during a vacation in Hawaii, my wife, Danielle, and I knew a life shift was happening. A connection to the land — this island — was built on that trip, leading us to relocate permanently to Captain Cook, Hawaii. It was there that we came across a six-acre Kona coffee farm that had fallen into neglect. Nurturing this farm back to life strengthened our relationship with the island, taught us the true meaning of sustainability and allowed us to become advocates for organic farming beyond our own acreage. Today Hala Tree Coffee Farm consists of nearly 100 acres, and we’ve built a network of like-minded coffee farmers looking to become fully organic. While organic processes may not change the taste of the coffee beans (the environment here takes the credit for that), the organic processes show respect to the land that produces them. We’re firm believers that authentic Kona coffee is organic and that shifting toward regenerative agriculture is vital. Globally, but especially on an island, just being “organic” is no longer enough.  Moving from ‘minimizing impact’ to regenerating  Our motivation to make a career out of farming stemmed from a love of the land. We wanted to work with this island, not take from it, and leave it even better than we found it. Learning the intricacies of Kona coffee farming from the ground up highlighted the need for organic practices early on. While sustainability is important no matter where you live, living on an island increases the urgency. Our soil, our trees and our water eventually connect to the ocean that surrounds Hawaii. While we want to care for the island itself, the consequences of not using organic practices can reach to the mainland United States and beyond, carried by the currents. Even small island farms leave a lasting effect — both positive and negative — on the environment globally. And because Hawaii must import large amounts of produce (resulting in 600,000 pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere for each flight from San Francisco to Hawaii), regenerative agriculture is imperative for our state. One major way to do that is to shift the way farming is done, especially for key crops such as coffee. Until recently, Hawaii was the only U.S. state that grows coffee beans (California has just started), and Kona coffee is coveted around the world. The mix of rain, quality soil, sunshine and elevation on the island creates the perfect environment for farming coffee beans. The conditions truly can’t be reproduced elsewhere, and that’s why the Kona coffee farming community is passionate about the environment and our island. At Hala Tree, we focus on two key areas: our soil and our trees.  We focus on topsoil regeneration by using perennial peanuts as ground cover to nourish the soil and anchor it. Our farm, as with most coffee farms in Hawaii, covers sloped areas prone to runoffs. Ground cover is vital to stabilizing our soil; we focus on the regenerative piece by choosing materials that give back to the soil. During pruning and clipping seasons on the farm, everything cut from the trees is spread on top of the current soil throughout the farm. We also use natural fertilizer made from fish bones throughout the farm. Wildlife is also a consideration with ground cover; we must ensure that we are not restricting movement or harming native animals. These species are key to the land’s ability to regenerate, and we must work with them, not around or against.  New trees are continuously planted on the farm to boost carbon sequestration. We have about 100,000 trees under our management, each being carefully maintained with organic practices.  Part of our initiative to move toward regenerative agriculture is helping other local farmers obtain organic certification. This initial process can be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive for small farms; for example, the weed maintenance piece is a tall order in a wet, humid climate where plants grow at astounding speeds. By bringing more farms under our wing and helping them on the organic path, we aim to better equip the agriculture community to embrace regenerative farming.  What’s good for one is good for all  While smaller farms may have the most to gain from going organic, the upfront cost to earn that designation can be prohibitive. Materials, tools, processes and labor need to be accounted for, not to mention the cost of certification. Farms also must be fully organic for three years before a certification can be awarded, adding a time investment on top of cost. For a small farm with just a few acres, this may be impossible to achieve alone. In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands ) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support. In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support.   Our own expansion as a company is partially fueled by mentoring other farms. The territory here can be difficult to work with, given the grades of hills and the need for special equipment. We help smaller farms by sharing resources and, in some cases, we manage their acreage to support their journey toward organic certification. Our partners either pay a fee or share a part of their harvest with us in exchange, making organic farming attainable while ensuring that they still see profit. It’s a form of regenerative agriculture itself: We’re investing in the community that invested in us, keeping everything local. Other types of agriculture are starting to use this model, and more need to follow. The wine industry is similar to coffee in terms of cultivation, harvest and processing. Established vineyards with organic certification can lift up neighboring vineyards and share their resources. When more organic wine enters the market, consumers are more likely to try it, which benefits the newly established organic farms and boosts the industry as whole. While new technology can help this process, machines can’t fully replace people or mimic the value of a strong, supportive network. That’s why we all need to work together. We hope to see farms of all kinds on the mainland and beyond consider the model we’ve created in Hawaii. We need more minds behind innovation in this area to continue growing and making regenerative practices accessible. While living on an island initially may have raised our sense of urgency for going organic, it’s no less imperative for our farming community in other U.S. states and around the world to shift their practices. While sustainability discussions can feel overwhelming and difficult, we have an opportunity in the agriculture community to show fellowship, support and positivity — and perhaps improve products and profits along the way. Pull Quote In order to create more organic farms and better serve the planet, larger farms (and perhaps even corporate brands) need to prioritize the sharing of resources and support. Topics Food & Agriculture Regenerative Agriculture Organics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Hala Tree Coffee Farm owners Danielle and Jean Orlowski. Courtesy of Charla Photography Close Authorship

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New study outlines ways to prevent future pandemics

July 27, 2020 by  
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The coronavirus pandemic has left the world devastated in many ways. Besides the deaths the pandemic has caused, COVID-19 has lead to a serious economic slowdown around the world. Millions of people have lost their jobs. While there are vaccines being tested for this virus, there are uncertainties about future pandemics. Scientists are now worried about the possibility of another pandemic occurring sooner than we expect. While the world is busy fighting the novel coronavirus, a group of scientists has been busy trying to find ways to prevent future pandemics. A study in the journal Science has argued that it is possible to prevent future pandemics at a fraction of the cost used to fight COVID-19. The study suggests that we could avoid another pandemic by controlling human and wildlife interactions. COVID-19 is believed to have originated from wild animals , specifically bats. Related: WWF releases report on avoiding the next zoonotic disease pandemic The study now proposes ways of ensuring that viruses from animals do not transfer to humans. The scientists have suggested measures that could reduce human-wildlife interaction and help prevent the spread of diseases. At the same time, these measures could protect the environment. The proposed measures include ending illegal wildlife trade, preserving forests and enhancing disease surveillance. “We have a lot of examples of these actions curtailing risk,” said Aaron Bernstein, director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study. “So we know that it’s possible — but we haven’t really invested at all.” Although there have been similar measures undertaken by governments, the seriousness of these actions has always been questionable. The study now provides evidence that shows taming both the illegal wildlife trade and deforestation could be achieved at a fraction of the economic cost of managing the coronavirus. If such actions are not taken and there is the occurrence of another pandemic in the near future, the impact would be devastating for the world. + Science Via Grist Image via Annie Spratt

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New study outlines ways to prevent future pandemics

Remembering Flex exec Bruce Klafter

July 27, 2020 by  
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Remembering Flex exec Bruce Klafter pete may Mon, 07/27/2020 – 01:45 Longtime GreenBiz friend Bruce Klafter died July 18 after a short and intense bout of pancreatic cancer. Bruce most recently was a vice president of sustainability strategy and outreach at Flex in Silicon Valley. GreenBiz co-founder and President Pete May reflects on his interaction with Bruce over the years. And below, we provide memories of Bruce from many of his friends and collaborators in the sustainability community. In the course of a business career, you meet colleagues who are smart, or kind, or just really good at what they do. Bruce Klafter was all of those things.  I first met Bruce in 2007. Joel Makower and I had just founded GreenBiz Group (then called Greener World Media). I was very actively getting out to meet practitioners in what was then the emerging field of sustainable business. Bruce at that time was managing director, corporate responsibility and sustainability at Applied Materials — then and now a massive player in materials engineering for the semiconductor and solar photovoltaic industries. Bruce was engaging, warm, thoughtful and way farther along the journey in sustainability and environmental, health and safety issues than most people I spoke with back then. ( Read his 2013 interview , when he “retired” from Applied Materials, in which he recounts his professional journey to that point.) Over the years, I got to know Bruce and I considered him a friend. We even got together to play tennis once and he roundly thrashed me. He was in good shape but, more tellingly, he was strategic in how he played — just as he was in his day job. In typical Bruce fashion, he offered no trash-talking after; he instead commended me on my game and noted what I needed to work on.  Bruce left his handprints all over the industry, a hand that was always advancing good. Bruce was always a big fan of GreenBiz — our website, our team and our events. He was always diplomatic but he didn’t shrink from giving detailed, measured and constructive feedback. I can still hear him, with his Chicago accent, saying, “Yeah, that article on LCA was good, but I think you could have gone deeper on …” Or “I thought the conference was good this year, and your team always does a professional job, but I thought the mainstage speakers could have been better.” Or without arrogance, “I thought some of the sessions were too 101.” Feedback from Bruce was always valuable, never trite, never superficial and never a stroke to one’s ego. I always walked away thinking “Yeah, we can really improve in this or that area.” Engaging with and giving back to the community always came easily for Bruce. He was present at most every sustainability gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area and often farther afield — as a speaker or just an attendee. He lectured at the Presidio School of Management and was integrally involved with Acterra, SASB, GRI and other sustainability leadership organizations. Bruce was present at leading conferences such as GreenBiz, VERGE and BSR. He always had time for early career professionals who sought his advice.  In 2013, Bruce joined Flex, the giant multinational electronics contract manufacturer, where he most recently was vice president of sustainability strategy and outreach. Over the years, we would meet up regularly at Flex headquarters in San Jose, where Bruce would share insights about the company and the industry. When I saw him in January, we spent some time in the cafeteria. We talked about work and he gave me advice on how GreenBiz should deal with Flex. When I asked him about his family, he lit up, speaking so proudly of his kids.  By that time Bruce was dealing with a challenge way bigger than any challenge in his career: pancreatic cancer. And he was doing it with courage, in his own quiet measured way,  Bruce attended our GreenBiz 20 in Phoenix in February. He later confided in me that that was where the cancer treatments really started to affect him. I last saw him at our VERGE Host Committee meeting at Cisco Systems in late February, just weeks before the world shut down for COVID-19. He participated actively, passionately describing Flex’s work in the circular economy and other topics. During a break, he expressed a quiet confidence in how he was dealing with his illness.  From the calm way he described it, I never imagined that was the last time I would see him. But it was. And that hurts.  Bruce was personally warm and engaging, intelligent, blessed with a sense of humor and dedicated to the work of building bridges and bringing change. On July 21, his family held a beautiful and moving ceremony. With more than 200 friends and colleagues tuning in by Zoom, the officiating rabbi, along with Bruce’s spouse, son and daughter, described a caring father and husband known for his humble, caring and unassuming manner.  Cancer is cruel. It often takes the best among us. Like Bruce Klafter.  Bruce, you were loved and will be sorely missed by the team at GreenBiz Group, and by the sustainability community all around us.   The Klafter family has requested that any donations in his name go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network , dedicated to fighting the world’s toughest cancer. Below are a handful of memories from members of the sustainability community who Bruce touched. Eric Austermann, Vice President, Social and Environmental Responsibility, Jabil Deepest condolences to Bruce’s family. I’ve known Bruce since the early beginnings of the Responsible Business Alliance (EICC when we first connected). Bruce was an outstanding person, with contagious impact. Bruce left his handprints all over the industry, a hand that was always advancing good.  Evident by our respective companies, Bruce and I were direct competitors. Bruce’s intellect, gentle (but very effective) passion and overall leadership at Flex inspired a healthy competitiveness that, frankly, raised the bar for all.  Peggy Brannigan, Global Senior Program Manager, Environmental Sustainability, LinkedIn I also want to share my appreciation for Bruce. I worked with him on the Acterra Business Environmental Awards program, and from the first time we met, I benefited from his generous welcoming spirit and his kindness. He was purposeful and had a big impact but always sensitive to taking good care of the relationships with people. Bruce Hartsough, former director of sustainability, Intuit; Board Chair, Bay Nature I was deeply saddened to hear that Bruce Klafter had passed. I met him when we were both members of the GreenBiz Executive Network (GBEN) at the time that he was leading Sustainability at Applied Materials while I was doing likewise for Intuit. Bruce was personally warm and engaging, intelligent, blessed with a sense of humor and dedicated to the work of building bridges and bringing change. He was one of the nicest people that I met during that time, and afterwards I was always glad to catch up with him at some of the nonprofit events that we were both involved in. I’m truly sorry that he has left us. In a situation where some would resort to divisiveness, aggression, preconceived opinions or determination to outshine all others, Bruce did none of those things. Ellen Jackowski, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer, HP Inc. Bruce was one of the best in our business and his legacy will live on for generations. He contributed to so many solutions, co-developed important pathways forward and did everything with such intention and openness to create change within our industry. I will miss Bruce’s friendship, and will never forget him or his passion to create a better world. Cecily Joseph, Board Chair Net Impact; former vice president, Corporate Responsibility, Symantec My heart aches for Bruce’s family. Bruce was a mentor and friend to many in the sustainability space including me. He was always so kind and gracious. When we last met, I recall him speaking so very proudly of his children. He will be missed. Mike Mielke, Senior Vice President, Environment and Energy, Silicon Valley Leadership Group Bruce was my first professional mentor upon my arrival in Silicon Valley. I had heard so much about him before our meeting, and I was nervous that first time. Bruce, although he offered me some really helpful and point-blank advice, did so with such insight, thoughtfulness and kindness, that I knew right there and then I wanted to work however and whenever I could with this sharp, experienced, kind and witty man. I must confess I was overcome with grief when I learned of his passing. But I am comforted by the knowledge that Bruce positively touched and affected the lives of so many people — more than he could possibly know. Life is short and precious, and we should try our best to take advantage of the time we have to make a real difference however we can. That is what he taught me, and I believe Bruce tried to live every day that way. Adam Stern, former director, Acterra Many people talk about corporate environmental sustainability. Bruce lived and breathed it and made it happen. He was a brilliant strategist and an inspiring leader for all of us in the field. May his memory be a blessing. Kathrin Winkler, former chief sustainability officer, EMC; Editor-at-Large, GreenBiz In a situation where some would resort to divisiveness, aggression, preconceived opinions or determination to outshine all others, Bruce did none of those things. He was thoughtful, kind, open to others’ perspectives, willing to listen and with his calm demeanor, able to bring peace.  Pull Quote Bruce was personally warm and engaging, intelligent, blessed with a sense of humor and dedicated to the work of building bridges and bringing change. Bruce left his handprints all over the industry, a hand that was always advancing good. In a situation where some would resort to divisiveness, aggression, preconceived opinions or determination to outshine all others, Bruce did none of those things. Topics Corporate Strategy Leadership GreenBiz Executive Network 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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New hydrogen production tech could reduce CO2 pollution

July 20, 2020 by  
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A recent publication in the journal Angewandte Chemie brings attention to an improved way of generating clean hydrogen . For many years, hydrogen production has proven costly to the environment, as industrial hydrogen production uses partial methane oxidation and fossil gasification. Currently,  95% of the world’s hydrogen  is produced through such methods, leading to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, producing one ton of hydrogen emits of seven tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In a recent experiment conducted by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, photo-electrochemical cells showed potential for producing pollution -free hydrogen. These cells combine a photo-absorbing gadget such as the solar panels with an electrolysis system to split water atoms and produce hydrogen gas without causing CO2 pollution. Although the concept of electrolysis is not new to hydrogen producers, the cost has always hampered this method. The most advanced system of electrolysis available involves the separation of hydrogen from water molecules through a photovoltaic current. Although the photovoltaic system has proven effective in generating hydrogen, it is expensive to maintain compared to fossil fuel-based hydrogen production. As a result, many  scientists have researched  ways to advance photovoltaic technology and reduce the costs involved. The KAUST researchers’ recent experiment may provide a glimmer of hope for this endeavor. According to Professor Hicham Idriss, the lead researcher, this discovery will significantly lower the cost of producing hydrogen through electrolysis. Contrary to the traditional photovoltaic process, the photo-electrochemical cells can absorb light to produce power that will produce hydrogen without the need for control circuits, connectors and other auxiliary tools that make the process expensive. While the experiment points in the right direction for future hydrogen production, much work is still needed. Idriss admits that the research team faced many challenges in up-scaling the system for industrial hydrogen production. Although the team is in the initial stages of testing the new technology’s viability, the process is still more expensive than fossil fuel -based hydrogen production methods. Should this new technology be adopted, hydrogen producers will have to balance economic and environmental costs. + Angewandte Chemie Via Advanced Science News Image via Pixabay

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Where to find eco-friendly engagement and wedding rings

July 16, 2020 by  
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Your engagement and wedding rings are a symbol of your eternal love and commitment to your spouse. If you’re eco-minded, they should also be a testament to your love for and commitment to the planet. So when selecting your metal and gem rings, do so with extra attention to the material origin and manufacturing process. We’ve made it easier with a roundup of some of the best sustainable jewelers. Jewelry-making, at its core, uses natural or eco-friendly materials and sustainable methods, but mass-production has led to pollution , over-harvesting and poor working conditions for thousands of people in the industry. The main issue is the mining process as well as the conflicts common to the areas around mines. As these environmental and humanitarian issues have come to light, a variety of companies have stepped in to do some of the foundational ethical research for you, ensuring you’re making the best wedding ring choice for yourself, your partner and the planet.  Related: How to have a more sustainable wedding Melissa Joy Manning With a Green-certified shop in Berkeley, California and a similar studio in New York City, Melissa Joy Manning is an honorable choice for your wedding rings. Not only is the manufacturing process sustainable, but all products are handmade using recycled precious metals . Packaging is made from recycled materials as well. Plus, carbon offsetting counterbalances any shipping emissions. Ken and Dana Design With each piece handcrafted in NYC, Ken and Dana Design avoids overseas manufacturing and ensures a generous living wage to the workers along the supply chain. All jewelry uses recycled metals to curb the impact caused by sourcing virgin materials. Diamonds are sourced from all Kimberley Process-compliant suppliers, which is a certification system that prohibits the trading of diamonds from conflict regions. Ken and Dana Design also offers Canadian-origin and lab-grown diamonds. A portion of each sale is donated to Earthworks and Cool Effect, organizations aimed at protecting the environment. Couple If diamonds are your dream, Couple.co is a great option for sourcing a ring you know has been thoughtfully made. Each diamond must first be certified by the International Gemological Institute, then only the best are personally selected by the in-house gemologist. For an eco-friendly and 100% ethically sourced and produced option, you can also select lab-grown diamonds. Aurate New York For a combination of minimalist design and high diamond traceability practices, Aurate New York is a solid choice. The gold is 100% recycled, and the company employs a process to ensure each piece is sustainably handmade, casted, polished and perfected in NYC by seventh-generation craftsmen. Plus, for each purchase, the company donates a book to improve literacy efforts across the country. Noémie Another U.S.-based jeweler focused on ethical production, Noémie uses recycled 18K gold and conflict-free certified diamonds. Plus it provides free overnight shipping and returns and a lifetime warranty, and it boasts IGI Diamond Certification. Do Amore Diamond-sourcing is a hot button issue due to the violence in some of these areas. While the Kimberley Process is a great start in avoiding diamonds from conflict areas, it’s not a foolproof indicator. Do Amore recognizes this and takes the process further to ensure safe worker conditions by purchasing all diamonds directly from Diamond Sightholders, who are held to strict sourcing and employee treatment standards. In addition, all rings are made from recycled precious metals, handmade in the U.S. and packaged sans plastic in wood boxes made from sustainable Jarrah trees. MiaDonna All MiaDonna rings are made in the U.S. using lab-developed diamonds and recycled metals. One tree is planted through the Nature Conservatory to carbon-offset each shipment, and the company is dedicated to the protection and reconstruction of areas damaged by the mining process. The company has also been awarded the Green America Seal of Approval, which is best expressed by MiaDonna itself with the statement, “We believe in transparency. As an advocate for diamond mining communities, global societies and the Earth, we are putting a modern twist on an outdated industry.” Erica Weiner If vintage describes your dream ring, check out the unique and expansive collection from Erica Weiner . In addition to offering the flair you desire, going vintage means eliminating the need for virgin materials, making it one of the most sustainable options for eco-friendly wedding jewelry . Catering to all preferences, the company also has handmade options made from recycled materials in contemporary designs. Aide-mémoire Jewelry If your desire to be earth-conscious is combined with a goal to support the LBGTQ+ community, Aide-mémoire Jewelry may be the option you’re looking for. As an “all-inclusive, queer woman-owned small business in Seattle, Washington,” the company designs its jewelry with recycled precious metals and lab-grown, conflict-free diamonds, then places each order in recyclable and compostable packaging. The company also contributes to Lambda Legal, an organization that supports the LBGTQ+ community, and Higher Heights, which supports Black female politicians. Bario Neal Designers Anna Bario and Page Neal set out to share more than beautiful jewelry. “Disillusioned by industry standards that turned a blind eye to metal and gemstone mining’s environmental and human tolls,” the duo creates rings with a commitment to social justice and environmental sustainability. Bario Neal supports LGBTQ+ rights and worldwide marriage equality, and all items are handmade in the Bario Neal Philadelphia studio. Both diamonds and colorful stones are fully traceable, and according to the company, “Fairmined metals are extracted by empowered and responsible small-scale and artisanal miners.” Images via Ken and Dana Design, MiaDonna, Bario Neal and Noémie

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An unexpected breakout year for the social side of ESG

July 13, 2020 by  
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An unexpected breakout year for the social side of ESG Mike Hower Mon, 07/13/2020 – 01:30 About six months ago, I wrote that 2020 would be a pivotal year for environmental, social and governance (ESG), and that what happens this year and over the next decade could determine the next century. While it would be the world’s biggest understatement to say 2020 isn’t turning out the way we all thought or hoped it would, I stand by my conclusion. This is a critical time for corporate sustainability. What we do or don’t do will change the world, but for reasons nobody could have predicted in December. The mass climate protests of 2019 and subsequent outpouring of major corporate climate commitments from the likes of Amazon, IKEA and Kering, among others, seemed to indicate that 2020 would be the year of the E in ESG — when corporate climate action hit critical mass. In January, the momentum built as Microsoft committed to becoming carbon-negative and BlackRock Chairman Larry Fink’s now-fabled letter to CEOs called the climate crisis a “defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.” The climate crisis even topped the discussion list at the World Economic Forum Annual Summit in Davos. And then along came a global pandemic, and everything changed. As the world went into lockdown, ESG conversations shifted from the E to the S, or social — how companies were responding to COVID-19 in terms of employee health and welfare. The emphasis on the S intensified even further after the murder of George Floyd sparked a movement for racial justice and employees, customers and investors demanded companies take a stand.  As social issues move to the forefront of ESG discussions, 2020 is turning out to be the breakout year for the S. To better understand what this means for the future of corporate sustainability, thinkPARALLAX recently gathered investors and corporate sustainability practitioners from TPG, JUST Capital, Workday, The Estée Lauder Companies and KKS Advisors for a digital Perspectives discussion .  The S moves to the front seat In the long road trip of corporate sustainability, the S mostly has ridden in the backseat — with the E and G commandeering the wheel and Spotify playlist. That’s because social issues are tough to quantify.  While calculating a carbon footprint is comparatively easy, how does one create science-based targets for worker welfare or racial injustice? Sure, an organization can make efforts to diversify its board and workforce, or create programs to improve worker welfare, but this is only a start.  Addressing deeply rooted systemic inequalities requires a much greater commitment and means of measuring success. Until now, companies have gotten by with doing nothing or just the bare minimum. No longer, thanks to the events of 2020. “We’re at a turning point in ESG,” said Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital . “What’s happened in the past three months has done 20 years of S work.”  [node:field-gbz-pull-quote:0] Moving forward, corporate board members, investors and executives will be expected to consider worker welfare and complex social issues such as racial inequality. “Companies are scrambling to address these issues, and everyone needs to throw out the manual and completely rethink how they approach equity in the workplace, because something is not working,” Whittaker said.  But as the S takes over the wheel, are environmental issues, the E, getting pushed into the backseat? No, said Alison Humphrey, director of ESG at TPG . “It’s just joined climate in the front seat.” E and S: better together The great thing about ESG is that it isn’t a zero-sum game. A renewed focus on the S actually might help companies do a better job of addressing environmental challenges because the two are linked. People of color or low-income socioeconomic status, for example, are suffering and will continue to suffer first and worst from the negative effects of the climate crisis, says Union of Concerned Scientists .  “There’s so much interesting intersectionality with social justice and climate — they are both so connected,” Humphrey said. “Climate work is hard and exhausting, and many people don’t feel the urgency or balk at the initial cost of the transition or fail to grasp how dependent humanity is on our ecosystems. In many ways, it mirrors many of the challenges with social justice — and you can’t address one without the other.” While measuring social impact remains difficult, this no longer will be an excuse for companies not to try.  “With this sharp focus on how integral social issues are to our ability to achieve an equitable society and make environmental progress, we will collectively need to get a lot better at measuring and communicating the S, just as we have with environmental topics,” said Aleksandra Dobkowski-Joy, executive director of ESG at The Estée Lauder Companies. Even before the events of 2020, Workday factored social impact into its environmental sustainability strategy, said Erik Hansen, director of sustainability at Workday. “The events of the past months have illustrated how valuable systems thinking is, and showing that we are a connected, global community. That connection between climate, the environment, people and health.” When Workday installed EV chargers at its headquarters, for example, this was not just so software engineers could come to work in a Tesla, Hansen said. It was also so that the company could minimize environmental impacts such as air pollution, which disproportionately hurt disadvantaged communities. Likewise, as Workday works toward its 100 percent renewable energy goal, the company is advocating for a just transition to clean energy that accounts for those who might be affected economically — such as workers in the fossil fuel industry — and ensure that nobody is left behind. One of the most effective ways to honor the E and the S might be focusing on the G, according to Anuj Shah, managing director at KKS Advisors : “One of the things we’ve looked at is how the G — the governance part — supersedes the E and the S. If you can get the G right, the E and S will follow.”  What racial justice means for business As mass protests erupted across the globe after the murder of Floyd, a chorus of companies voiced support for addressing racial inequality, and some even committed to doing something about it. But what comes next? “We’re at a point where we need to take substantive action, as individuals and as corporations, to deliver on social justice. I’m incredibly proud of the commitment made by The Estée Lauder Companies to promote racial equity, as a starting point for real progress and lasting change,” Dobkowski-Joy said. According to Humphrey, TPG came out with a statement and commitment to take action by first taking a step back to reflect on its role and how it can best address system inequalities as a private equity firm. “The question is, what is your company’s role in rectifying injustice in our system? This needs to come uniquely from each department, a top-down and bottom-up approach.” A hopeful future for ESG Despite the setbacks of 2020, there remains reason for hope. The ongoing global pandemic is shattering the longstanding myth that companies must sacrifice return to be a good corporate citizen — ESG funds are outperforming the wider market during this economic downturn.  And we are learning through much trial and error — emphasis on the “error” — how to address an intractable problem that harms everyone yet that no single government, organization or individual can solve alone. Relentless competition may be giving way to constructive collaboration. And these lessons might still be applied to address the ultimately more existential crisis of the climate.  [node:field-gbz-pull-quote:1] “In the midst of this tremendous upheaval, we’re all pulling together in ways which were unfathomable just months ago — and showing that collective action is actually possible,” Dobkowski-Joy said. Climate may begin to take on a new importance as a long-term threat to society as climate risk exposes inequities just as COVID-19 has, Whittaker said. “COVID-19 has taught us the importance of resilience, interdependence and systemic risk and how to address that — and how we can be more effective working together. I’ve seen a lot of collaboration over the last three months, which I wouldn’t have expected to see. I think it has brought out a lot of humanity in business which has all been about profit making.”  Shah of KKS was more cautiously optimistic. “I’m concerned that a lot of companies are going to feel pressure to maximize profits coming out of the pandemic into a new normal. ESG and short termism don’t necessarily go together. Long termism is a prerequisite for ESG.” However, Shah added that he has been inspired by the mass movement for racial justice being driven by the younger generation. As Millennials and Generation Z continue to take over the workforce and enter leadership roles, this activist mindset could change the future of ESG.  Humphrey suggested companies should take a look at business model resilience and how it is intertwined with ESG issues. “Perhaps we can focus less on the rolling back of budgets, which has happened for many companies across the board, and instead on how the pandemic has compelled us to look beyond one-off CSR and sustainability initiatives toward a more strategic, integrated and business-aligned approach to managing these 21st-century risks,” she said.  As we continue to push forward toward an uncertain future, the only certainty is that things will change. And it’s up to all of us to make sure that it’s for the better. Pull Quote What’s happened in the past three months has done 20 years of S work. We will collectively need to get a lot better at measuring and communicating the S, just as we have with environmental topics. Topics Corporate Strategy ESG Environmental Justice 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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An unexpected breakout year for the social side of ESG

Rocket Crafters creates safer, greener hybrid rocket engine technology

July 10, 2020 by  
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Rocket Crafters, an aerospace company based in Florida, is patenting its hybrid rocket engine technology . The engine, which the company described as throttle-able, affordable, reliable and 3D-printed, is said to be a milestone in the world of rocket science. For many years, rocket scientists have been trying to develop a hybrid engine — unsuccessfully. All of these attempts failed along the way due to fuel combustion issues. However, thanks to 3D-printing technology, Rocket Crafters has managed to develop a hybrid engine known as the STAR-3D. The engine has completed over 40 subscale engine tests and is now poised to engage in large-scale tests. What is a hybrid rocket engine? If you are not a fan of rockets or rocket science, you may not have a clue about the impact of developing a hybrid engine . In simple terms, a hybrid engine means that the rocket will be fueled by a combination of solid and liquid or gas fuel. This is a big achievement for the world, considering that the hybrid engine will be much greener. The combustion of rocket fuels has negative impacts on the environment, but this new technology tries to address these issues. Related: Studio Roosegaarde’s laser light art tracks floating space waste in the sky Rockets that are strictly solid-fueled cannot be throttled or restarted, while hybrid rockets can. This is one of the reasons why many scientists have been working on hybrid rocket technology. The hybrid engine is much faster and safer as compared to solid- or liquid-fueled counterparts. According to Rocket Crafters, the company can also scale rocket engines from 125lbf all the way to 5000lbf. Compared to the liquid-fueled rocket engines, the hybrid is much easier to develop and less expensive, too. Liquid-fueled rockets have been favored in the past for being environmentally safer than solid-fueled rockets; however, the cost of developing liquid-fueled rockets has proved to be the problem. Most aerospace companies have been striving to find a balance between the cost and sustainability of the rockets . Hybrid engines are less expensive in terms of maintenance. The engines by Rocket Crafters only have two movable parts, which means that they are less mechanical. They separately store fuel in two different states (solid and liquid), which helps safeguard against accidental detonation. But the attempt to shift to hybrid engines has been met by many challenges. According to a report in 3DPrint, both governments and industries have been unable to develop a safe hybrid engine for years. In previous attempts, the rockets were met with issues such as excessive thrust and unpredictable vibrations. Purpose of the hybrid engine In the initial stages of developing the engine, it was used to send small rockets into the Earth’s orbit. The company now plans to work with private businesses and governments that send small satellites to outer space. The 3D-printed hybrid engine makes launching rockets into space much easier and safer. Just as many other companies that have been using 3D-printing to make the world a better place, Rocket Crafters have managed to change the future of rockets completely. This means that rocket travel will be much more accessible. The new technology now seeks to bring the cost of more sustainable rocketing to a record low. Hybrid engines are greener The most impressive aspect of the new hybrid engines is that they are better for the environment. Traditionally, solid-fueled engines would emit heavy carbon waste into the atmosphere . Due to such effects of solid-fueled engines, there has been pressure for more rocket manufacturers to turn to liquid-fueled engines, which are greener. Liquid-fueled engines are propelled by liquid hydrogen, which produces water vapor exhaust. But the production of hydrogen itself can also cause significant pollution. The end game for rocket manufactures turns out to be hybrid engines — something that Rocket Crafters hopes to make as safe and sustainable as possible. + Rocket Crafters Image via Unsplash

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Rocket Crafters creates safer, greener hybrid rocket engine technology

How to support environmental justice

July 8, 2020 by  
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When most of us think about the environment, we tend to conjure certain images. Clean waterways and national parks full of trees or wildlife come to mind, especially since environmental news often focuses on polar ice caps melting in the Arctic, deforestation in the Amazon and animals close to extinction. How often, however, do we think about the human communities in our own backyard and where we fit into environmental issues? When climate change doesn’t seem to affect you directly, it can be easy to overlook. This is where environmental justice comes in. What is environmental justice? The United States  Environmental Protection Agency  defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This goal will become reality “when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.” This intersection between environmentalism and social justice forms an important branch of activism that focuses on people’s right to live safely without environmental hazards. Related: 5 growing environmental nonprofits to support in 2020 Concerns linked to hazardous  waste  sites, failing infrastructure and money-saving policy changes in vulnerable communities continue to plague the environment and the humans who live there. Low-income communities and communities of color are especially at risk; think Flint, Michigan, when a 2014 policy change led to at least 100,000 people losing access to clean water. Additional examples of environmental injustice remain plentiful. Low-income communities are more likely than the overall population to be affected by climate change threats (such as flooding), due to inadequate housing. A 2018  study  by the Environmental Protection Agency also found that  air polluting  facilities burdened Black communities at a rate 1.54 times higher than the overall population. Throughout the country, there are even neighborhoods without access to healthy food, and communities with toxic waterways and soil due to oil and gas extraction. How to help All of these environmental injustices can be daunting, but there are ways to help. Especially with  social media , something as simple as raising awareness of an issue can have a lasting effect. You can also show your support by getting involved with or donating to environmental justice  non-profits . One of the best ways to help is by backing socially-equal conservation policies and the organizations or politicians supporting them.  WE ACT  is an organization that helps low-income communities of color fight harmful environmental policies while participating in the creation of fair environmental policies.  Green For All  works to uplift the voices of low-income communities and people of color in the climate justice movement and fights to build a green economy that lifts people out of poverty. The NAACP also has an  Environmental and Climate Justice Program  to support community leadership in addressing environmental injustice and its disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities. Take the time to challenge unjust laws and violations of environmental policies in marginalized communities, too.  EarthJustice  believes that law is the most powerful tool for environmental change. The non-profit public interest environmental law organization supports an experienced legal team that represents their clients from small towns to large organizations (for free) in the fight against environmental injustice. Environmental justice work doesn’t stop there Indigenous communities are also disproportionately exposed to environmental contaminants, often due to federal and state laws that make it easier for extractive and polluting facilities to access tribal lands. A 2012  study  even found that Indigenous American communities face disproportionate health burdens and environmental health risks compared with the average North American population. Organizations like  Cultural Survival , which works to advance the rights and cultures of Indigenous people, and the  Indigenous Environmental Network , an alliance of Indigenous peoples who fight to address environmental and economic justice issues, help educate and empower Indigenous people while raising awareness for their environmental protection. Other facets of the environment, such as the  agricultural  sector, also experience injustice.  The National Black Farmers Association  is a non-profit organization representing African American farmers and their families in the U.S., focusing on issues such as civil rights, land retention, education, agricultural training and rural economic development. A new generation leading the way Especially in recent years, with young leaders addressing the environmental tolls that harmful practices reap upon the planet, several organizations for young people have made tremendous strides in environmental justice.  The Sunrise Movement , a youth-led organization, advocates for political action on climate change and works to help elect leaders who stand up for the health and equal wellbeing of all people. Similarly, the  Power Shift Network  mobilizes the collective power of young people to fight against environmental racism by stopping dirty energy projects and campaigning to divest from  fossil fuels . Images via Pexels

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How to support environmental justice

Beavers could be contributing to warming in the Arctic

July 6, 2020 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters suggests that beavers’ actions could be contributing to climate change. The study, which involved analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery, has shown that beavers are constructing dams and lakes in the Alaskan tundra. The actions of these beavers are transforming the Alaskan landscape in a way that is dangerous to the environment. When they form new bodies of water, they contribute to the thawing of frozen permafrost, which is a natural reservoir for methane and carbon dioxide. When lakes are formed, these greenhouse gases are likely to leak into the atmosphere. There has been a sharp increase in the number of beavers in the Alaskan tundra in the last two decades. According to the research, scientists have spotted increasing numbers of beavers over a very small area. These beavers carry dead trees and shrubs to create dams, resulting in new lakes that flood the permafrost soil and release methane. Related: Climate change could lead to dramatic decline in narwhals The sudden rise in the number of beavers in the Arctic region has lead to more of these dams. Ingmar Nitze, a researcher from the Alfred Wegener Institute and author of the study, said, “We’re seeing exponential growth there. The number of these structures doubles roughly every four years.” The study found that the number of dams in a 100-square-kilometer area around Kotzebue increased from two in 2002 to about 98 in 2019. This is a staggering 5000% increase in the number of dams. Nitze said that although the lakes can drain themselves and leave dry basins, the beavers are smart enough to block the outlets and refill the basins. CNN reported that the Arctic permafrost is melting at an alarming rate. These natural methane and carbon dioxide reservoirs are releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Several studies are now underway to determine the amount of carbon dioxide being released from such reservoirs. “There are a lot of people trying to quantify methane and CO2 emissions from lakes in the Arctic but not specifically yet from beaver lakes,” Nitze explained. The researchers now fear that similar beaver actions may be happening in other areas as well. Nitze warned that the same could be happening in the Canadian tundra and Siberia among other places in the world. + Environmental Research Letters Via CNN Image via Jan Erik Engan

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Beavers could be contributing to warming in the Arctic

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