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

Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain

October 5, 2020 by  
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Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain Joel Makower Mon, 10/05/2020 – 02:11 First in a two-part series. This story begins, as so many supply-chain stories do, at a mine, the beginning of a journey in which a commodity — mica, in this case — finds its way into an extraordinarily diverse array of quotidian things: attic insulation; brake linings; car paint; concrete; electronic capacitors; epoxies; fertilizers; gypsum wallboard; LED lights; molded rubber; oil and gas drilling fluids; plastics; printing inks; roofing shingles; and toothpaste. And somewhere down that list: cosmetics. The mine in question — actually, thousands of them — can be found in the eastern Indian province of Jharkhand, just over 200 miles west of the cultural hub of Kolkata. Jharkhand — and Bihar, its neighbor to the north — boast one of the world’s richest veins of mica as well as a complex ecosystem of players large and small that provide the shiny, shimmering rock to global markets, including to a maverick California cosmetics company called Beautycounter. But, as the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold. Mica mining has become a growing problem for the image- and brand-conscious cosmetics industry. Its relentless pursuit for safe and effective ingredients has animated a wide range of efforts to understand and, when necessary, improve the sourcing practices for mica and thousands of other ingredients. In some cases, that means substituting them with new, less-problematic ones. Procuring those ingredients can involve complex supply chains, in which families, small businesses and entire communities in far-flung parts of the globe grow, mine or otherwise source raw materials. From there, the materials may wend through a maze of intermediaries: collectors; brokers; distributors; processors; and an assortment of others who ultimately transform them into whatever specifications the market demands. Along the way, materials from one site may be commingled with those from others, complicating companies’ and their customers’ efforts to understand where, exactly, they came from and the conditions under which they were produced. The complexity of tracking and tracing all these ingredients can obscure detrimental environmental and social impacts, from pollution to bribery to slavery. And child labor, in which small children, often recruited because of their ability to fit into small spaces, do difficult, dangerous work for low pay. In some cases, they are the only thing standing between their families and starvation. Which brings us back to mica. In cosmetics, mica is commonly used as a color additive to provide the glitter and shimmer consumers expect in such products as blush, eye shadow, lipstick and foundation. (The mineral’s name comes from Latin word micare, which means to glitter or pulse.) It is also common in skincare products, particularly those marketed as brightening or illuminating, and is used as a bulking agent and to increase viscosity. Mica flakes, photo courtesy Beautycounter Mica is mined in more than 35 countries, but about 25 percent of the world’s supply comes from deposits found in and around Jharkhand, in what has been dubbed the mica belt. Jharkhand is also home to the highest level of poverty in India, which has led children to join the labor force in order to enable their families to put food on the table. About 35 percent of the population of Bihar and Jharkhand live on less than 50 cents per day, according to one report . “The mica in India is optically very distinct,” Leonardo Bonanni, founder and CEO of New York-based Sourcemap, a supply-chain mapping software company, explained to me. “People buy it just like they buy cocoa from West Africa: It has that special profile that they’re looking for. It’s one of the highest quality, if not the highest quality, in the world.” What’s been less chronicled is the arduous journey companies go through to clean up their mica supply chain. In recent years, the story of mica and child labor has been well-told, thanks to investigative reporters, activist groups and concerned companies. What’s been less chronicled is the arduous journey companies go through to clean up their mica supply chain, including the often-grueling work it takes to trace the mineral from its source all the way to products, then make the necessary changes to ensure it meets a company’s ethical and performance standards. And to communicate all this to its customers and stakeholders in a simple, compelling and reassuring way. In that regard, mica is just one of many commodities in corporate supply chains that face social and environmental challenges, not to mention byzantine routes to market, leading to increased scrutiny of companies, and especially consumer brands, perceived to be less than responsible or transparent. And while each commodity can have its own unique challenges, the lessons learned in one can inure to the benefit of others in today’s interconnected business world. School of rock The past few years have brought a rise in concern over child labor in mica mining in Jharkhand. Investigators have documented children as young as 4 — some working alongside their parents and siblings — hammering rock from walls in illegal mines, then carrying heavy loads through slippery tunnels. Above ground, children sort the mica flakes from the rock and transport them to makeshift collection facilities, some of them in abandoned mines. None of them attend school. A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in 2016 found children “dying in crumbling, illegal mica mines … but their deaths were covered up.” A year later, the Indian government legalized mica mining in an effort to allow the sector to be regulated, root out child labor and ensure better wages and conditions for mine workers of all ages. Child labor, however common, remains illegal, and many makeshift mines are unregulated. Children working in a mine in Jharkhand, India. Photo via Danwatch. Cosmetic companies, the most visible consumer brands using mica, have been under pressure from advocacy groups to clean up their mica supply chains, in part, by eliminating child labor. A number of both large and smaller brands have taken on the mica issue, some more effectively than others. Those efforts remain a work in progress. Only about 18 percent of mined mica goes into cosmetics. The electronics industry is the biggest user, with about 26 percent, followed closely by the paints, pigments and ink sector, at 24 percent. But cosmetics, to date, has been the sector most under scrutiny for its mica sourcing practices. Enter Beautycounter . The 7-year-old privately held company, based in Santa Monica, California, sells 150 or so products directly to consumers through its website, brick-and-mortar stores and more than 50,000 independent consultants. Its founder, marketing executive Gregg Renfrew, built the company around an ethos of “clean” and safe cosmetics by scrutinizing even the most commonly used ingredients. “We are focused on safety for human health. First and foremost, that’s our primary platform,” Renfrew told me during an on-stage interview in 2019. The company has banned more than 1,800 ingredients from its formulations due to health and safety concerns. About three years ago, Beautycounter’s concerns began to expand to include the well-being of those in its supply chains. It set out to try to change the sourcing methods for three ingredients it felt were particularly problematic: palm oil; vanilla; and mica. Back to the source To begin, the company needed to understand the provenance of its mica: where it came from and the various parties who touched it, both literally and figuratively, on its way to being incorporated into Beautycounter products. That turned out to be no small feat. “Traceability is the key to expose secrets and make sure that you can actually understand how people are treated when they’re mining or farming the ingredients that you use,” Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice president of social mission, explained to me recently. “And while we commend the work that has happened by some of the other traditional beauty players, we actually didn’t see anyone that was taking what we felt was an adequate dive to really understand how to trace the mica supply chain.” Dahl and her team began to audit their suppliers and realized “just how little has been done to understand where and how mica is sourced and ultimately ends up in products.” Dahl and her team realized just how little has been done to understand where and how mica is sourced and ultimately ends up in products. One relatively easy option could have been to use only mica mined in the United States, which boasts high environmental and social standards, at least compared to those in India, Madagascar and other places that mine mica.  For example, German chemical company BASF operates an open-pit mica mine in Hartwell, Georgia, that it says meets its high standards and has no child labor. The Hartwell mine is the largest source of mica to Beautycounter. But it isn’t that simple. Some of that has to do with the nature of the mineral itself. Mica is the name for three dozen or so phyllosilicate materials whose crystalline structure can be split or delaminated into thin sheets or flakes. Different types of mica are used for different applications, depending on whether the need is for a material to be elastic, flexible, hydrophilic, insulating, lightweight, reflective, refractive or opaque, among several other qualities. Identifying the desired attributes for a given product can be tricky. For example, when used in eyeshadow and blush, the nature and quality of the mica can determine how long it stays on one’s skin. In the case of a tinted moisturizer, one of Beautycounter’s most prominent products, the company tried sourcing domestic mica, “and it just made people’s faces look super shiny,” Dahl said. Another workaround would be synthetic mica, made in a lab, which is said to be brighter and more uniform in color and finish. Several cosmetic brands, such as Aether Beauty, Jane Iredale and Lush, boast that their use of manufactured mica eliminates child labor problems. It’s not a guarantee: In 2016, Lush discovered natural mica in a range of mica pigments it had been told were synthetic. (It can be equally complicated for consumers. Mined mica may be listed on a product ingredient list as mica, muscovite, potassium aluminum silicate or by its chemical name, CI 77019, whereas the lab-made version may show up as synthetic mica or synthetic fluorphlogopite.) Beautycounter uses domestically mined mica whenever possible. “That’s actually how we start our product development process,” Dahl explained. “And if that mica doesn’t perform, then we go to our other vetted suppliers.” In many of those other cases, mica sourced from Jharkhand is the way to go. Dialing for details In 2018, Dahl and her team set out to understand its mica supply chain, including how much verifiable information was available about working conditions and child labor. All of its mica suppliers were able to produce third-party certification attesting to ethical labor practices, but it was unclear what, if anything, was behind those certificates. Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice president of social mission. “It was clear right away if a supplier even knew where their product was coming from and where it was sourced, because there were so many middlemen,” Dahl explained. “And if you don’t even know where your product is sourced, how can you actually hand us a certificate that says, ‘We feel confident’?” That year, Sasha Calder, Beautycounter’s sustainability director, began asking hard questions about child labor in a series of phone audits. “For some suppliers, there are so many middlepeople that we still don’t know,” Calder told me. “And for those suppliers, we’re no longer working with them because they didn’t have that traceability from the mine all the way to our formulas.” In some cases, mica went through “at least 10 different layers and levels of suppliers,” she said. “That very initial step was the real wake-up call that pushed us into action to say, ‘It’s time for us to take a deep dive,’” Dahl said. One goal of the phone-audit exercise, Calder said, was to determine “if our partners or suppliers were willing to have us on the ground to see whether what they were sharing on the phone was legitimate.” In short order, it was time to go. On the ground Calder ventured to Jharkhand in January 2019 to see what she could learn about which suppliers were in compliance with Beautycounter’s human rights and safety standards. “We found that the mica industry was much more complicated than anything we thought,” she said. “All of our research didn’t prepare us for the complexities on the ground.” Her experience there did not inspire confidence. Beautycounter sustainability director Sasha Calder in Jharkhand. Calder returned home with recommendations for which suppliers were willing to uphold standards and which weren’t, and where and how the company needed to reformulate ingredients from some suppliers or, with others, put in place a set of initiatives to be compliant with both international law and Beautycounter’s own standards. For the next several months, Calder and her colleagues worked closely with suppliers to implement those plans. In some cases, suppliers unwilling to make the necessary changes were summarily dropped. Top-down, bottom-up Calder returned to Jharkhand in November 2019 to see how things were going. This time, she invited Leo Bonanni from Sourcemap to join her. Bonanni is no stranger to this type of exercise, having investigated coffee and cocoa supply chains from Mexico to Madagascar and throughout West Africa. “Mica runs into the same problems as cocoa in the sense that a lot of it is informal, a lot of families extracting mica for their own subsistence,” Bonanni explained to me. “It’s a cash product. You can’t eat it, you can’t wear it, so it has to be traded. And that means there are a lot of vulnerabilities. The people who mine mica might be getting very low prices compared to what it goes for on the market.” With cocoa, Sourcemap keeps tabs on a half a million smallholder farmers in West Africa, where child labor is common. In Jharkhand, Bonnani observed, “You have an analogous problem — hundreds of thousands of artisanal miners of mica. Child labor and malnutrition are endemic. At the same time, these huge multinational brands and even the traders are fully aware that they’re sourcing from these places, but they lack that accountability to the ‘first mile,’ as we call it.” Why don’t we apply those lessons from cocoa, which is not an easy supply chain to trace and monitor, to mica? Bonnani thought: “Why don’t we apply those lessons from cocoa, which is not an easy supply chain to trace and monitor, to mica?” In tracing supply chains to ensure ethical practices, Sourcemap works in both a top-down and bottom-up fashion. The top-down part is something it calls supply-chain discovery — essentially starting with the brand to find out what it knows about its suppliers, and its suppliers’ suppliers, the kind of exercise in which Beautycounter already had engaged. “It’s a cascading process that allows a brand, no matter where it is in the world, to find out where their raw materials are sourced,” Bonnani explained. The bottom-up part is on the ground, as Bonnani did in traveling with Beautycounter to Jharkhand, “Going there and trying to figure out what mechanisms can we put on the ground to actually make that supply chain visible, make it transparent,” he said. Bonnani quickly determined that, while mica mining in India shared some qualities with cocoa farming in Madagascar, it lacked some qualities of the cocoa world.  For example, he told me, “In the cocoa industry, there’s been increasing support from all the stakeholders, including even the local governments, to put in place traceability and to account for risks of child labor. In mica, we are still missing many of the key players at the table — basically the people we would need to put pressure on the producers so that they have to become transparent about where they actually source the mineral. “There’s a huge black hole that consists of a whole series of local warehouses and processors. And that’s where we lose visibility between the mine and the exporter.” Fanny Frémont agrees. The executive director of the Responsible Mica Initiative , she has been working on behalf of her organization’s 60 member companies, including cosmetics and personal care brands such as Burt’s Bees, Chanel, Clarins, Coty, L’Oréal, LVMH, Sephora, Shiseido and The Body Shop. Its membership also includes automakers, pigment companies, chemical companies, pharmaceuticals and other mica producers and consumers. (Beautycounter is not a member.) The group has been working since its founding in 2017 to help companies across a range of industries clean up their mica supply chains. The organization and its members have set out to map the flows of mica, starting at the mines. “Each member’s supply-chain participant must then adopt workplace environment, health, safety and fair labor practices that include a prohibition on the use of child labor,” according to its website. The Paris-based organization tracks 57 percent of the mica exports from India, according to Frémont, and has been working with the Jharkhand government to enforce existing regulations and enact new ones. But Frémont told me that the mica initiative doesn’t plan to require traceability by its members. That’s a blind spot, Bonnani said. “Until we have traceability, we won’t be able to account for any of the risks in the mica supply chain, let alone child labor, one of the biggest ones.” Next:  How transforming the mica supply chain transforms lives 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 What’s been less chronicled is the arduous journey companies go through to clean up their mica supply chain. Dahl and her team realized just how little has been done to understand where and how mica is sourced and ultimately ends up in products. Why don’t we apply those lessons from cocoa, which is not an easy supply chain to trace and monitor, to mica? Topics Supply Chain Consumer Products Leadership Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off School children in Jharkhand, India.   Photo by Mohammad Shahnawaz, via Shutterstock.

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Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain

Garden House brings nature back to the city

September 23, 2020 by  
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As urban areas grow around the world, housing seems to get farther and farther from nature, turning cities into concrete jungles lacking in greenery. This is not only less than ideal for humans, but it is hard on the planet as well. The team at Christos Pavlou Architecture addressed this issue with the Garden House, a nearly 2,000-square-foot home complete with nature elements inside and out. Built in Nicosia, Cyprus, the home “brings nature back to the city” with inviting outdoor areas for gathering with friends and neighbors as well as balconies and rooftops for more indoor/outdoor living opportunities. The designers put the focus on nature after realizing the development of Nicosia lacked greenery and public communal areas as part of its urban development. With this in mind, the team incorporated an abundance of potential for microclimates within the space. To achieve this goal, 60% of the ground floor incorporates garden space, which includes lush plants and wildflowers . Additionally, a green terrace on the first floor continues the garden theme. All areas within the home open up to the outdoors; the ground floor is connected via a centralized courtyard. Related: Instagram data uncovers the world’s top #urbanjungles While creating all this green space is great for the residents of Garden House, it’s also beneficial to pollinators . The bee-friendly landscape includes 40 kinds of native wildflowers and encourages the return of local bird species that have mostly been driven out of the city. In addition to improving the air and visual appeal for humans and supporting wildlife , the design is a thoughtful gift to the planet with elements that work to slow global warming. Christos Pavlou Architecture is a small design studio that opened in 2003. With a focus on indoor/outdoor spaces and attention to solving problems related to customer needs and climate conditions, the firm has earned several recognitions, including a first-place Cyprus state architecture award in 2019 in the Outstanding Architecture category. Christos Pavlou Architecture is currently a nominee for the European Union Mies Van Der Rohe Award 2021, Barcelona.  + Christos Pavlou Architecture Photography by Charis Solomou via v2com

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Garden House brings nature back to the city

New map exposes secrets of Antarctica’s green snow

May 28, 2020 by  
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Antarctica’s peculiar green snow is spreading, according to researchers who have created the first large-scale map of microscopic algae growing on the chilly, southernmost continent. As the climate warms, snow algae is becoming a more and more important terrestrial carbon sink. “This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms,” study leader Matt Davey, faculty member of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, said. “Snow algae are a key component of the continent’s ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.” Related: Antarctica reaches record high temperature The study’s researchers, from University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey, explained the lay of the Antarctic land. “In the limited terrestrial ecosystems of Antarctica , all photosynthetic organisms will make a significant contribution to the ecology of their habitat,” the scientists wrote in their paper, which is published in Nature Communications . With only about 0.18% of Antarctica’s continental area ice-free, there’s very little exposed ground for traditional vegetation. Thus, evolution got creative and developed snow algae. Expeditions in the 1950s and 1960s first described the green and red patches on and below the snow surface. Since then, researchers have learned that Antarctica’s diverse algal species are important for nutrient and carbon cycling. “Considering that a single snow algal bloom can cover hundreds of square meters, snow algae are potentially one of the region’s most significant photosynthetic primary producers, as well as influencing nutrient provision to downstream terrestrial and marine ecosystems ,” the researchers wrote. Researchers combined their own measurements on the ground with satellite images taken between 2017 and 2019 to map the algae. They found that algae grows in “warmer” areas along the Antarctica coastlines and west coast islands, where temperatures in the continent’s summer months rise just a hair over 0 degrees Celsius. Marine birds and mammals also influence the algal distribution, as their excrement is a natural fertilizer. More than 60% of algal blooms were within 5 kilometers of penguin colonies. Lead author Andrew Gray explained, “As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly outweigh the loss of small island patches of algae.” + Nature Communications Via University of Cambridge Images via Gray, A., Krolikowski, M., Fretwell, P. et al. / Nature Communications (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

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New map exposes secrets of Antarctica’s green snow

An origami-like CLT roof crowns this office in Japan

April 7, 2020 by  
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When Tokyo-based architectural office UENOA was tasked to design a new office building for structural screws manufacturer SYNEGIC Co., Ltd, the client also asked them to create “advanced architecture that [would] expand the possibilities of wooden structures.” The architects rose to the challenge by experimenting with new ways of using cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels in construction. The result is a sculptural office with a sweeping roof frame built of heavy CLT panels that touches the ground on four sides. Located in Miyagi prefecture north of Tokyo, the new SYNEGIC office building is oriented north to south and spans 834 square meters across two floors. The ground floor of the hexagonal-shaped building is partitioned into a series of rooms for a variety of functions including meetings, offices, storage, bathrooms and technical equipment. In contrast, the cross-shaped second floor does not have partition walls and comprises an open-plan office, conference room and sample room. Related: First CLT Passive House project in Boston breaks ground The highlight of the project is the massive folded roof with exposed trusses. The architects created the structure by connecting flat laminated timber trusses with widths of 105 millimeters — the typical size for lumber used in Japanese houses — to triangular CLT panels. The use of CLT allowed the architects to take advantage of time-saving prefabrication and avoid on-site hardware joinery. The heavy CLT panels used for the roof have also been used as partition walls for bearing vertical loads on the ground floor.  “After thoroughly controlling the texture of the CLT surface just like a marble, we are trying to join screws with consideration of design and workability rather than general CLT hardware,” the architects said. “Through these ambitious processes commensurate with the high cost of CLT, it was possible to realize a large CLT wall in the atrium that has no modules and emphasizes the wooden texture more.” + UENOA Images by Hiroyuki Hirai via UENOA

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An origami-like CLT roof crowns this office in Japan

How to stock a vegan pandemic pantry

April 7, 2020 by  
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As what used to be ordinary errands become brave forays into a coronavirus -paralyzed world, online grocery stores have seen a huge uptick in orders. People with dietary restrictions may be especially challenged. “When you’re vegan, it’s so much harder to find some of the things you need,” said Ryan Wilson, co-owner of Wisconsin-based Vegan Essentials. He and his wife Courtney Ernster, who founded the mail-order grocery in 1997, have been working around the clock to keep up with demand. Here are some tips from Wilson on what to buy for a vegan pantry, where to get these items and why getting groceries might take longer than you expect. What vegan pantry supplies to buy The first instinct is to stock up on dry goods and pantry staples: flour, sugar, vegetable oil, rice, dried beans and lentils. Ground flax seed makes an easy egg replacement in baked goods, and perhaps grab as much shelf-stable soy milk as you can carry. Related: Keep your pantry stocked with these staples for a plant-based diet But Wilson surprisingly said people are ordering “anything and everything.” Even items that usually sit for a while are now flying off the shelves. “It is truly a period where no matter what we have, every single thing is going, whether it’s frozen meals, refrigerated products, dry goods, even dog food and treats are going out at faster paces than usual.” What are Wilson and Ernster stacking in their own pantry? Turns out they’re thinking farther ahead and bringing home jerky, canned chili and heat-and-serve pouch meals. “Things that are easy if you want to tuck some extra stock on the shelf just in case there’s limited cooking abilities or anything of that sort,” Wilson explained. “Things that are just very easy to open up, grab, heat or just eat straight from the pack.” We’ve been avoiding thinking about grid failure, but he makes a good point. A can of chili won’t fail you like dried beans and rice will if you can’t turn on your stove. A few sweets can be comforting at a time like this. Dates and dark chocolate have some nutrients and can be eaten on their own or baked into delicious treats. Where to buy vegan food online Like many people, the pandemic finally eroded my resistance to Amazon Prime, partly because of the free delivery from Whole Foods. Alas, I filled up my online shopping cart only to find out there were no delivery windows available. This is a problem plaguing many grocery stores that deliver. As a warning, all of the stores in this section may let you down at times, as items continue to fly off shelves and stores remain understaffed. In addition to retail giants like Amazon and Instacart, many more specialty businesses appeal to vegetarians, vegans and health -conscious individuals. Bob’s Red Mill , beloved purveyor of whole foods, is a superstar when it comes to grains, cereals, flours, mixes, beans and seeds. Bob’s Red Mill also has a dedicated gluten-free production line. Related: The best sources for plant-based protein Vegan Essentials can fulfill your alternative meat and cheese needs, and this online grocery sells vegan treats such as white chocolate, caramels and snickerdoodle dessert hummus. It also stocks all the standard things a vegan household needs, from pantry staples to cleaners. Deja Vegan specializes in vegan snack foods, like cookies, crackers and bars. A business partner of PETA , Deja Vegan donates half of its profits to animal causes. Coronavirus-related complications to supply and demand When you’re ordering groceries during the pandemic, it helps to be patient and ready to substitute items. Vegan Essentials’ experience is probably typical of many online food businesses right now. “It went from being a normal volume we were very, very much able to handle to getting about three to five times our normal business almost overnight,” Wilson said. “Which of course is only exacerbated by the challenge of people being restricted and everybody kind of being stuck inside.” Supply chains have mostly been reliable, Wilson said, but he has encountered some shortages. At the lowest point, he was placing orders and only receiving half of what he needed for his customers. “But it seems that right now we’re getting about 75 to 80% of what we need,” Wilson said. “I’m hoping in the next few weeks as companies start to ramp up production and things smooth out, I’m hoping we can get that back to having everything on hand all the time.” There’s also the problem of quickly adding staff as demand soars. Vegan Essentials is relying on a network of family and friends who have suddenly lost their jobs. More than ever, trust among employees is paramount. Wilson said, “We try to keep self-contained where we kind of know everybody and everyone feels safe and doesn’t wonder, ‘Was that person going places they shouldn’t have gone?’” Vegan Essentials is getting more international orders than it has had in the past, including from new customers in Australia, France, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Finland. “We haven’t heard specifically why people are looking to order from the USA more than just sticking with the usual places in Europe that can get things to them a little bit sooner. But it could just be that now that people are confined, they’re looking for a little extra variety to have something different on hand.” Because grocers are essential businesses, the folks at Vegan Essentials will keep working to meet demand. “There’s not much else we can do right now but work and keep things moving,” Wilson said. “So we may as well just keep doing the best job we can.” Images via Maddi Bazzocco , Martin Lostak and Andrea Davis

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How to stock a vegan pandemic pantry

Kengo Kuma unveils bold timber museum in Turkey that pays homage to the region’s Ottoman heritage

September 17, 2019 by  
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The world-renowned architects of Kengo Kuma and Associates have just unveiled a stunning museum in Turkey. Located in Eskisehir, the Odunpazari Modern Museum features several stacked timber boxes that seemingly rise out of the ground at various angles, paying homage to the city’s Ottoman heritage. Featuring a design led by Kengo Kuma partner Yuki Ikeguchi, the new 48,400-square-foot museum is a light-filled, multilevel space that holds a collection of 1,000 pieces of contemporary art . Although the artworks inside the museum are decidedly modern, the building’s design was heavily influenced by the city’s history. Related: Kengo Kuma suspends a cocoon-like timber dwelling for minimal site impact According to Kengo Kuma and Associates , the timber and stacked volumes of the Odunpazari Modern Museum were implemented into the design to reconnect the area with its heritage. For example, the word “Odunpazari” means “wood market” in Turkish. Using bold, square-edged timber logs as the building’s principle construction material pays homage to the region’s long history of wood trading. In addition to its timber materials , which feature strongly on the exterior and throughout the interior, the museum’s volume is also a nod to the city’s Ottoman history. Most of the homes in the city that date back to the Ottoman empire were built with an upper level cantilevering over a base. Using this design as inspiration, the museum features several stacked boxes that cantilever out over the ground floor base at various angles. Inside the museum, these interlocked boxes create distinct spaces of varying sizes. The larger exhibition rooms on the bottom floor house large-scale art works and installations, while the smaller boxes at the upper levels exhibit smaller artworks. A reception area and atrium are found in the middle of the museum. Clad in timber slats, a massive, central skylight leads up through the floors, welcoming natural light into the interiors of each level. + Kengo Kuma + Odunpazari Modern Museum Images via Kengo Kuma and Associates

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Kengo Kuma unveils bold timber museum in Turkey that pays homage to the region’s Ottoman heritage

This prefab tower was built using net-zero design principles

September 10, 2019 by  
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Located 100 kilometers from Beijing, the Lakeside Plugin Tower was developed as a model prototype for a city concept using sustainable, net-zero design principles. The tower serves as an important model for a low-carbon eco city concept, called “Xiong’an New Area,” being advanced by the central government. The urban design will use 100 percent clean electricity, and 10 percent of the area will be protected as permanent farmland. The structure creates 480 square meters of living and working space and was developed by People’s Architecture Office in partnership with the Shenzhen Institute of Building Research, a China-based engineering company helping to lead the country in both green design and urban development. Related: The prefab Plugin House turns ruins into livable dwellings in just one day Once completed, the Xiong’an New Area will become a congestion-free, sustainable housing region that will serve as an alternative to the capital. The government hopes to keep the new area affordable by making all housing state-owned and subsidized. Built on a foundation made of distributed concrete piers and raised one story above the ground to lessen environmental impact on the building site, the tower adheres to China’s “sponge city concept,” the idea of building structures above the ground to allow stormwater to permeate the earth below to reduce extreme flooding and surface pollution , especially in metropolitan areas. The elevated-building concept also allows for sunlight to better access the site and produce more greenery. The prefabricated process serves to both reduce costs and make construction more efficient. Panels can be installed manually through a locking system using a single tool, so entire sections of the tower can be removed or added without affecting the main structure. Solar panels cover the roof of the building, which also serve as a way to heat the floors. The windows are designed to allow for natural ventilation, and an off-grid sewer system creates on-site sustainable wastewater treatment. + People’s Architecture Office Via ArchDaily Photography by Jin Weiqi and People’s Architecture Office

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This prefab tower was built using net-zero design principles

A shipping container is recycled into a chic nature retreat in Brazil

September 2, 2019 by  
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When a client approached Bruno Zaitter with a request for a minimalist and sustainable getaway in Brazil’s Balsa Nova, the Brazilian architect and professor decided that cargotecture would be the perfect fit for the brief. Proving that less can be more, the architect upcycled a secondhand shipping container into a relatively compact 538-square-foot abode with a bedroom, bathroom, living and dining area, kitchen and an outdoor terrace. Most importantly, the structure, named the Purunã Refuge, immerses the client in nature with its large glazed walls that embrace panoramic views in all directions. Protected on the west side by a lush native forest, the Purunã Refuge is set at the foot of a geographical fault called Escarpa Denoviana and enjoys privacy, immersion in nature and views of the city skyline beyond. The project, completed in 2016, draws on Zaitter’s experience with recycling shipping containers into contemporary structures. As with its predecessors, the Purunã Refuge is elevated off the ground for reduced site impact. Related: A modern farmstay suite minimizes site impact in Brazil Raised 3 meters off the ground and accessible by outdoor stairs, the dwelling features a 12-meter-long container — comprising the sleeping area, a portion of the kitchen, the entrance and the bathroom with a soaking tub — that has been extended by two glass-enclosed volumes on either side. The larger of the two boxes houses the living and dining area as well as office space; the smaller box is a bump out of the kitchen that extends into the forest. Stretching northwest to southeast, the Purunã Refuge is accessed from the north side, which leads up to an outdoor terrace . “The project’s concept was to group the essential universes of human life — eating, sleeping, sanitizing, working and socializing — in a space of about 50 square meters with the greatest possible contact with the surrounding natural landscape,” Zaitter explained. “The biggest challenge was convincing people who still believe that large space equals comfortable space, and that small space is uncomfortable space. The refuge proved that less is more.” + Bruno Zaitter Photography by Sergio Mendonça Jr. via Bruno Zaitter

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A shipping container is recycled into a chic nature retreat in Brazil

U.S. agriculture needs a 21st-century New Deal

July 10, 2019 by  
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How can we give power back to farmers — and out carbon back into the ground?

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U.S. agriculture needs a 21st-century New Deal

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