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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CRA unveils designs for Biotic, a high-tech district in Brazil

September 8, 2020 by  
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After two years of development, international design firm Carlo Ratti Associati and consultancy firm Ernst & Young have unveiled their masterplan designs for Biotic, a high-tech innovation district in Brasilia, Brazil. Inspired by the Brazilian capital’s modernist masterplan engineered by urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer, Biotic was conceived as an extension of the city’s historic layout as well as a reinterpretation of the city’s iconic superblocks to create a more nature-centric community with greater mixed-use programming.  Developed for public real estate company TerraCap, the 10-million-square-foot Biotic would be located between the UNESCO World Heritage “Plano Piloto” — the foundation of Brasilia in 1960 — and the 42,000-hectare Brasilia National Park in the northwest of the Federal District. The proposed technology and innovation district focuses on “domesticating nature” to allow residents, workers and visitors closer contact with nature in both public and private areas. Related: How Barcelona “superblocks” return city streets to the people The Biotic project expands on Brasilia’s iconic Superquadra (or superblock ) modules by subdividing each into pedestrian blocks with street fronts. These internal neighborhoods would not only be protected from traffic and pollution, but the inward-facing spaces would also promote social cohesion and community. The masterplan also champions mixed-use programming — a feature that was typically avoided in Brazil’s modernist urban planning in the mid-century. The architects intend to take advantage of Brasilia’s year-round mild climate to cultivate stronger connections with nature. For example, outdoor offices would be designed with curtain walls that could open like real curtains. Digital technologies embedded into plazas , pedestrian zones, shared vegetable gardens and other spaces would be used to monitor sunlight, wind and temperature and create comfortable working environments while allowing close contact with nature. “The office buildings, hovering above the ground level, are designed for sun and wind to come in,” said James Schrader, project manager at CRA. “Thanks to a system of openable wooden facades that can slide along the building like a curtain, the interior spaces will open to the exterior, allowing users to enjoy Brasilia’s weather. This project merges the interior and exterior into one space.” + Carlo Ratti Associati Images via Carlo Ratti Associati

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CRA unveils designs for Biotic, a high-tech district in Brazil

Student designs inflatable bamboo greenhouses for sustainable farming

September 1, 2020 by  
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University of Westminster Master of Architecture (MArch) (RIBA Pt II) student Eliza Hague has proposed an eco-friendly alternative to the plastic-covered greenhouses commonly found in India. In place of the polythene sheeting that is typically used to cover greenhouses , Hague has created a design concept that uses shellac-coated bamboo. If applied, the weather-resistant and durable bamboo-shellac material would give the greenhouses a beautiful, origami-like effect and cut down on the excessive plastic waste generated by polythene sheeting. Created as part of her school’s Architectural Productions module that emphasizes biomimicry in designs, Hague’s shellac-coated bamboo greenhouse proposal follows her studio’s focus on challenging unsustainable architectural structures with nature-inspired alternatives. Polythene sheeting is currently the most popular greenhouse covering material in India. However, it needs replaced every year, which leads to excessive plastic waste. Related: 3-hectare desert farm in Jordan can grow 286,600 pounds of veggies each year Hague minimizes the environmental footprint of her design proposal by using locally sourced bamboo and natural resins extracted from trees. The paper-like bamboo covering is coated with shellac resin for weather-resistance. Hague also took inspiration from the Mimosa Pudica plant in redesigning the greenhouse structure, which would be built with collapsible beams and “inflatable origami hinges” so that the building could be flat-packed and easily transported. Once on site, the greenhouse would be inflated with air, covered with the bamboo-shellac material and fitted with expandable black solar balloons that would sit between the infill beams and cladding for the hinges to promote natural ventilation.  “The tutors in Design Studio 10 encourage you to analyse what it means to be truly sustainable in architecture, rather than integrating sustainability as a generic requirement which is often seen throughout the industry,” Hague said to the University of Westminster. “This helped to develop my project into something that challenges the suitability of widely used materials and current lifestyles.” + University of Westminster Images via University of Westminster

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Conceptual rammed earth home harmonizes with an Indian forest

July 17, 2020 by  
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Mumbai-based architecture firm  Morphlab  has unveiled designs for “Shift-ing Earth,” a luxury residence designed to harmonize with nature. Created as part of a proposed township masterplan on densely forested land in India, the design concept marries contemporary architecture with natural materials and passive solar principles. The highly geometric house would primarily use rammed earth walls with large openings for a strong indoor/outdoor relationship. Morphlab’s renderings depict a house that mimics a rocky outcropping with asymmetrical  rammed earth  forms and a two-story outdoor waterfall as a focal feature next to the main entrance. Water, a major theme throughout the design, flows from the entrance waterfall to an L-shaped pool that wraps around the side of the building and culminates in a rectangular pool in the rear outdoor patio. The design would also encourage vegetation to grow in and around the home, from climbing wall vines to garden spaces, to help blur the boundary between indoors and out. According to the architects, integrating vegetation and water features is part of an energy-efficient strategy that takes advantage of natural cooling to minimize dependence on mechanical cooling. The house’s orientation follows  passive principles  as well; the bedrooms face the southwest in alignment with the direction of cross breezes. Mitigation against unwanted solar gain also informed the massing. Several openings, including a large rounded skylight above the living area that takes in canopy views, frame select views of the forest.  Related: Hawk Nest House combines rammed earth and local stone To  minimize site impact,  Morphlab proposes reusing the earth excavated during the construction process for the formwork of the rammed earth walls. To protect the areas of the home most exposed to the elements, the architects have proposed wrapping those sections — including the front door and upper bedroom volume — with corten steel panels that complement the rammed earth construction while adding extra durability.  + Morphlab Images via Morphlab

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Conceptual rammed earth home harmonizes with an Indian forest

Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs

July 17, 2020 by  
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A new species of alga found in Hawaii is emerging as a potential threat to coral reefs. Researchers from the University of Hawaii conducted a study establishing that the red algae have been growing on the island for several years now. First spotted in 2016, the species has spread rapidly throughout the island. Published in the journal  PLOS ONE , the study revealed that a thick layer of red algae has been spreading in Hawaii . A group of scientists first spotted the species during a mission to monitor ocean life in 2016. At the time, only small patches of red algae existed on the island. When the scientists returned to the same spot four years later, they found that the algae had grown into a thick layer. According to the researchers, mat-like layers of algae cover vast groups of corals in the island’s Pearl and Hermes Atoll. This development proves especially concerning given how coral reefs usually thrive in such remote areas. The presence of this new species could threaten coral reefs on the island. Coral reefs need sunlight and space to survive, both of which are hampered by the layers of algae. According to Dr. Alison Sherwood, the study’s lead researcher, this algae issue is unprecedented. “Something like this has never been seen in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands before. This is extremely alarming to see an alga like this come in and take over so quickly and have these impacts,” Sherwood said. The scientists who discovered the red alga named it Chondria Tumulosa. Considered a “nuisance species,” Chondria Tumulosa’s rate of spread could endanger marine life . Although the algae’s exact cause is unknown, researchers list unusual water chemistry and the absence of natural algae consumers as potential factors. Researchers are now working to determine Chondria Tumulosa’s characteristics and its possible effects on marine life. + PLOS ONE Via NY Times Image via Ed Bierman

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Scientists discover algae species that may affect coral reefs

The electronic waste collection conundrum

July 16, 2020 by  
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The electronic waste collection conundrum Heather Clancy Thu, 07/16/2020 – 01:15 The primary reason I started covering the business of sustainability during the 2008 financial crisis wasn’t just because I was laid off from my position as editor of a technology trade publication. Quite simply, I had become obsessed with the tech industry’s then-blasé attitude about the seemingly intractable problem of electronic waste.  A dozen years later, it’s still a massive problem — although data released this week by Morgan Stanley suggest that shifting consumer mindsets about electronics recycling, refurbishment, repair and trade-in programs could be a catalyst for change. First, some stats. According to a December report by the United Nations Environment Program, roughly 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste is produced globally on an annual basis. By weight, that’s more than all of the commercial airliners ever manufactured, and only 20 percent of the stuff is formally recycled. (The operative word being formally, because a lot of it gets handled in informal ways that can inflict serious human and environmental damage. But that’s a subject for another essay.) The numbers will never scale until collection is scaled. When I started mining some of my stories from a year ago, those figures were eerily familiar. The amount of e-stuff collected and processed for some useful end — either mined for metals and rare earths or refurbished for a second life — definitely has been growing, thanks to companies such as Apple, Dell, HP Inc. and Samsung. But not nearly enough when you think of all the gadgets that have made it into the world’s hands over the past 10 years.  Interest in seeing that change is growing among consumers — at least before the pandemic really set in — according to research fielded in February by Morgan Stanley. More than half the individuals the financial services company surveyed — 10,000 people from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China and India — said they recycle old electronics devices. That’s up from 24 percent just two years ago. Close to half of them, 45 percent, said electronics recycling should be handled by the manufacturer. Furthermore, close to 80 percent of the respondents reported that they repaired a device — or planned to repair — at least one gadget; 70 percent had bought or planned on buying a refurbished one. “As advanced robotics technology becomes more accessible, repairs and chip-set upgrades could become a more compelling method in making devices more ‘sustainable,’” Morgan Stanley noted in its report. Great idea, but how does all this stuff get to a location where it can be repaired, refurbished or recycling? “The numbers will never scale until collection is scaled,” long-time electronics recycling executive Kabira Stokes told me when I chatted with her earlier this week. Stokes founded her first electronics recycling organization in 2011 as a social purpose corporation and later sold Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Recycling, where she’s a board member, handles recycling for companies, notably HP — it has raised oodles of press for its workforce development program, which creates jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals. She’s hoping to bring the same ethos as CEO of one-year-old Retrievr , which is (you guessed it) focusing on solving the collection problem. The company’s first market is Philadelphia, where it has contracted with the city and more than 80 nearby municipalities to pick up unwanted clothing and electronics that otherwise might wind up in places where we really don’t want it. Retrievr’s lead investor is Closed Loop Partners and it is advised by execs from Accenture and Google. “This is a way to reach into people’s houses. In my mind, it’s the only way to move the needle,” Stokes said. While Retrievr isn’t ready to talk about its partners in fashion and technology, it’s shopping the software behind its collection system as a way to help product makers get stuff back more easily, Stokes told me. Historically speaking, many makers of stuff haven’t taken responsibility for its end of life. That’s changing as more explore circular production methods. Morgan Stanley’s analysis notes that consumers are particularly interested in trade-in options, with more than three-quarters of those surveyed hoping to participate in such a program by 2022. This isn’t just a matter of sustainability, it’s a matter of competitive advantage. The firm figures of the value of Apple iPhones that could be traded toward new devices is somewhere around $147 billion, an amount that could fund roughly 30 percent of new iPhone purchases over the next three years. “We believe that now is the opportune time for manufacturers to invest more aggressively in infrastructure to support these types of programs,” the Morgan Stanley analysis notes. Of course, it’s possible that if this same survey were fielded today, fewer consumers would be interested in repairs or refurbished devices or in trading the old for new. During a pandemic, things previously owned by others don’t have quite the same cachet. One big wildcard is how the COVID-19 economic crisis — and potentially permanent new habits in remote working and education — might affect demand for personal computers and tablets. Think of how many households with multiple children have had to invest in additional devices in order to keep everyone online. Just last week, research firm IDC reported that second quarter PC shipments grew by double digits compared with a year ago. It could be exactly the right time to change the model. This article first appeared in GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, VERGE Weekly, running Wednesdays. Subscribe  here . Follow me on Twitter: @greentechlady. Pull Quote The numbers will never scale until collection is scaled. Topics Information Technology Circular Economy E-Waste Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Taming plastic waste with silica plastic blocks

June 23, 2020 by  
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In a bid to curb plastic waste pollution, India-based company Rhino Machines has invented a way of using plastic to make construction blocks. The silica plastic blocks (SPBs) are strong enough to build a house and can be useful in reducing world pollution problems. As the company behind this new technology, Rhino Machines experimented to determine the viability of making construction bricks from waste plastic and foundry dust. According to the company, they conducted experiments in collaboration with R+D Labs to prove that SPBs can be used to replace traditional construction blocks. Why recycle plastic waste? This experiment came from the need to find a permanent solution to India’s growing plastic waste problem. According to 2012 estimations by the Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB), India generates close to 26,000 tons of plastic a day. Additionally, as  The Economic Times  reports, over 10,000 tons of plastic waste go uncollected each day. This plastic waste litters streets, landfills and the seas. Furthermore, as non-biodegradable waste, the plastic ends up polluting rivers, agricultural land and even estates. The plastic waste pollution problem is not limited to India. According to a 2017  National Geographic  publication, over 91% of the plastic waste produced globally is not recycled. The same publication points out that as of 2018, the world has generated over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since plastic began being mass-produced. About 6.3 billion metric tons of this waste ends up as waste in landfills , oceans and rivers. National Geographic also points out that if the global community doesn’t contain the current trend of plastic waste pollution, landfills will house 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste by 2050. All the problems caused by plastic waste are now pushing scientists and innovators to look for solutions that will create a sustainable world. Although some countries have banned single-use plastics , the current amount of plastic waste still takes an enormous toll on the environment. Technologies such as SPBs can help significantly reduce this waste. The convergence of plastic waste pollution problems and a need for urban housing developments also presents a unique opportunity for SPBs. According to the United Nations,  55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas . In urban areas, high population density leads to exacerbated plastic waste problems. The U.N. further estimates that about 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. By using available plastic waste to build housing for the growing urban population, SPBs could help reduce world plastic pollution.  How are SPBs made? When Rhino Machines started the SPB project, its objective was to attain zero waste through the reclamation of foundry waste . Initially, the experiment tested using foundry dust with cement to make bricks. This experiment resulted in 7-10% waste recycled for cement bricks and 15% waste recycled for clay bricks. The company realized the experiment required using resources such as cement , soil and water, which was not justified by the waste recycled. Further research led the team to use foundry dust with plastic waste to boost the project’s sustainability. Using plastic waste as a bonding agent eliminated the need for water and cement during mixing. Why SPBs? Building with SPBs contributes to the environment in two ways. Producing the blocks requires a mixture of about 80% foundry dust with about 20% plastic. Consequently, the project does not need water or cement. This means that the blocks use less natural resources while also reducing inorganic waste. The experiment to produce SPBs also uncovered additional positive revelations. Apart from the fact that these blocks are sustainable, they also offer the construction industry a strong building alternative. According to  Technology Times , SPBs are 2.5 times stronger than normal red clay blocks. Additionally, as SPBs are made from waste, “the cost of production can easily compete with the commonly available red clay brick or the CMU (concrete masonry unit).” Rhino Machines approached several organizations including hospitals, schools and local municipal corporations to collect clean plastic for the project. In about four months, the company collected over six tons of plastic waste and 15 tons of foundry dust. This collection helps demonstrate just how much plastic waste is available to be used in the production of SPBs. Furthermore, the company is “preparing to come up with an ecosystem solution so that the foundries across the country can develop and distribute” SPBs. As described in a statement from Rhino Machines, this is part of an effort to bring SPBs to impact zones that are part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), “a Government of India initiative for businesses to undertake philanthropic causes and give back to the community.” As the research and experimentation shows, SPBs have the potential to relieve plastic waste concerns not only in India but all over the world. If industries can adopt this new building technology , we may have hope for a future with less plastic pollution. Images via R+D Studio

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Taming plastic waste with silica plastic blocks

Vibrant office building in India is made of recycled shipping containers

June 15, 2020 by  
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Sustainability and cost-effectiveness were top requirements when a green concrete manufacturing company in Bangalore, India approached Balan and Nambisan Architects. The clients were looking to keep an element of eco-friendliness and recycling at the center of the design. As such, the architects found shipping containers to be the obvious choice for construction. Shipping containers presented a versatile, cost-effective option that still had the potential to make a statement both in the local community and in the sustainable design world. The result was a compact, 1,500-square-foot office space made of four separate recycled containers, aptly named Colorfully Contained Experiences. The building includes a workstation, an experience center, a dining area, an outdoor deck and bathrooms. A ramp connects the separate containers, and a glass-encased staircase interconnects all of the floors. Related: Recycled shipping container cafe utilizes passive cooling in India Bright primary colors intentionally provide a sharp contrast to the uniformed buildings and factories in the surrounding area as a way to draw attention from potential customers. The bright red, blue and yellow colors also contrast the abundance of gray concrete that the company manufactures onsite. Meanwhile, the shipping containers maintain the same industrial style of the other buildings in the area while still boasting individuality. Because some shipping container structures tend to overheat in the summer months, and especially given the extreme temperatures that India experiences, insulation was a main focus for the project. The designers included passive cooling elements and insulation using rock wool and strand board paneling for the ceiling and walls. The containers were arranged around a water feature to provide a cooling effect in the courtyard, while windows and openings were placed strategically to allow for natural ventilation. Balan and Nambisan Architects paid special attention to drainage as well to ensure that the exterior surfaces stayed clear of rust in the event of heavy rain. + Balan and Nambisan Architects Images via Balan and Nambisan Architects

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Vibrant office building in India is made of recycled shipping containers

Hawk Nest House combines rammed earth and local stone

June 15, 2020 by  
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This stunning 4,585 square foot home in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico exemplifies sustainable  indoor-outdoor living  at its finest. In 2018, architecture firm FabrikG completed the home, which is located in an off-grid community about five and a half miles from downtown San Jose del Cabo on the East Cape hillside. It was constructed using  rammed earth  with locally-sourced stone and designed with passive solar principles. Paired with unobstructed ocean views and abundant outdoor spaces, Hawk Nest House creates a balanced harmony with the natural surroundings. The home’s east side consists of three rammed earth volumes situated around an outdoor common area, with a walkway leading to the property’s best sea views. A tile vaulted roof covers the living room, and the kitchen’s arched entrance is also made of rammed earth. A small patio off the kitchen offers even more ocean views. In addition to the  solar panels , which provide enough power to sustain the entire property, designers also included a water treatment plant to reuse water for irrigation when needed. Related: Mexican winery built from recycled wood and rammed earth blends into the valley landscape The main living quarters are located in the house’s right wing, connected with a wooden walkway. There are two master bedrooms, plus two bathrooms surrounding a patio with an outdoor shower, tub and local  stone walls. Apart from the main house, there is also a garage, a rammed earth guest house and a small, vaulted meditation room. The owner, an artist, has a studio situated on the northeast end of the property. For the landscaping, native desert plants on the patios and outside property require little to no irrigation.  According to the architects, this type of construction using rammed earth and traditional local stone masonry is advantageous in arid climates. The thermal mass of the thick earth walls regulates temperatures throughout the day and night, while the openness of the house encourages cross-ventilation . Unique elements are found throughout the home, including windows accented with sustainably-sourced and naturally-treated wood, and exterior walls treated with charred wood and coated in natural oil (a Japanese technique called Shou Sugi Ban).  + FabrikG Via ArchDaily Images via FabrikG

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Hawk Nest House combines rammed earth and local stone

The Iceberg Sofa draws attention to melting glaciers

June 15, 2020 by  
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Fnji, a design brand based in China, is using its platform to raise awareness for global warming , specifically the effect on sea ice. The new Iceberg Sofa is a sculptural furniture piece made of interconnecting gray-blue blocks, inspired by melting ocean glaciers and set to be released in September 2020. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program , a federally-mandated organization that researches changes in the global environment and its impacts on society, the world’s average temperature has increased by more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s. Even worse, average global temperatures have exceeded the last century’s average every year since 1980. Minimum sea ice extent (the ocean area that has an ice concentration of 15% or more) in the Arctic has steadily decreased by 33% since the year 1979. Related: Floating ICEBERG creatively confronts global warming To raise awareness of this issue, Fnji founder Guqi Gao designed the Iceberg Sofa. The sofa is made of Kvadrat Fiord multipurpose wool fabric that combines blended and undyed yarn, giving the piece a dotted texture mimicking the blue and white glitter of a polar glacier. An interlocking block design gives it an organic-yet-organized look, with the added benefit of a comfortable touch thanks to the high-quality wool. Sculptural in form, every “ice block” making up the sofa is unique. Beneath the fabric, the internal structure is processed independently and each sponge is crafted separately before being assembled together under the surface, a technical process requiring detailed skill. Each block is meant to represent its own identity and provide different perspectives independent of the entire piece. Different shapes come into play once again in the solid wooden base, which is designed to represent melted portions of glaciers with its curves. This isn’t the first staggering environmental issue that Fnji has addressed through design. The Iceberg Sofa is a continuation of the Crestline Collection, which takes inspiration from nature and environmental protection. + Fnji Images via Fnji

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