Past and future come together at the sustainable Auric Hall

January 14, 2021 by  
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How can architecture serve the needs of culture and civilization? IMK Architects, a pioneer in urban design founded in 1957, answers that question with Auric Hall, its new project in Aurangabad, India . Auric Hall serves as a landmark building for Aurangabad, an industrial smart city . The city itself was developed as part of a strategic development plan created by the Indian government to completely change the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. At the center of the development plan is Auric Hall, a 16,600-square-meter building. Designed to provide space for administrative and commercial functions, Auric Hall also promotes collaboration, the flow of ideas and an amazing environment that honors the past while looking toward the future. As an architectural showcase, Auric Hall pays homage to Aurangabad’s history and works with its climate. To this end, the design includes decorative features such as ceremonial gateways, arches and beautiful jaali screens. The design evokes historic Mughal architecture, with an incredible style that combines ornate design, symmetry and function. Auric Hall puts on a modern twist on these historical elements via its beautiful atrium garden and indoor terraces that promote a social, community-oriented environment. The design seeks to encourage discussion, cross-collaboration and interaction. With Aurangabad’s semi-arid climate in mind, Auric Hall’s design incorporates passive cooling. A laser-cut aluminum jaali screen on the facade serves not only as an eye-catching design feature but also minimizes solar heat gain and controls the building’s airflow. These features help regulate internal temperatures. Meanwhile, solar panels and energy metering help keep the building energy-efficient. The building also includes CO2 monitoring to ensure environmental quality control. Incorporating these features alongside high-performance materials allows Auric Hall to achieve IGBC Gold rating, the second-highest IGBC available. These environmental and sustainability considerations demonstrate IMK Architects’ commitment to its company values of “sustainable, environment conscious architecture.” + IMK Architects Images via IMK Architects

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The race to mainstream electric vehicles by 2030

December 2, 2020 by  
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The race to mainstream electric vehicles by 2030 Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 12/02/2020 – 00:30 The world’s leading companies and policymakers are coalescing around setting targets for adopting zero-emission vehicles around a 2030 time frame. The latest — and one of the most aggressive to come from a country leader — was issued a few weeks ago by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who revealed a climate plan that includes banning the sales of new gas-powered vehicles starting in 2030 (some hybrids will be allowed until 2035). The U.K. accelerated its commitment to zero-emission vehicles from 2040 to 2035, and finally to just a decade away. The U.K. isn’t the only one. Denmark set the same goal — phase out new fossil fuel vehicle sales in 2030 — and world-leader Norway plans to make the switch in 2025. A couple months ago, in response to the California wildfires, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that similarly called for a ban of new gas car sales, but starting in 2035.  On the corporate front, 2030 is emerging as an appropriately aggressive but achievable goal. The Climate Group’s EV100 program , which has 92 member companies that have pledged to buy EVs and install EV chargers, features the tagline: “Making electric transport the new normal by 2030.” Why is 2030 the year for EVs to become the “new normal”? Technology advances, for one. Electric vehicles will begin to cost the same as their fossil fuel counterparts between 2025 and 2029, depending on the vehicle type. The price of lithium-ion batteries, which power most mainstream EVs, has been dropping dramatically the past several years. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says that between 2010 and 2019, lithium-ion battery pack prices fell 87 percent. In 2019, they dropped 13 percent more.  At that rate, electric vehicles will begin to cost the same as their fossil fuel counterparts between 2025 and 2029, depending on the vehicle type; just in time for these targets. Starting in 2030, BNEF predicts that 26 million EVs will be sold annually, representing 28 percent of the world’s new cars sold.  Because of these increasingly attractive battery economics, and increased competition from companies such as Tesla and Rivian, big automakers are accelerating their EV production plans. Pandemic-induced austerity has ed to the world’s largest OEMs opting for EV investments over internal combustion ones. Last month, General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced an accelerated investment in its EV lineup, adding $7 billion from its initial plans announced earlier this year.  Increasing concern over the climate crisis is also driving accelerated goals. Climate scientists urge that the planet only has until 2030 to stem the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The historic wildfires that struck California this year were the catalyst that led to Newsom’s signing the executive order to ban new gas car sales.  Meanwhile, as many policymakers and companies are unifying around a 2030 time frame, others are still looking at a much longer timescale of 2050. While far-out climate goals are better than no climate goals, 2050 is just too far off for zero-emission vehicles. EVs already will have tipped into the mainstream far, far sooner than three decades from now.  If you’re helping your organization set big zero-emission transportation goals, look no later than 2030. Goals to electrify fleets, install EV chargers and charging depots, and end gas car sales, are totally doable — and in fact necessary — over the next decade. Pull Quote Electric vehicles will begin to cost the same as their fossil fuel counterparts between 2025 and 2029, depending on the vehicle type. Topics Transportation & Mobility Policy & Politics Electric Vehicles Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Drivers charging their electric car at charging stations near government offices in New Delhi, India. Shutterstock Pradeep Gaurs Close Authorship

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Why corporate partners are essential for Third Derivative, a new climate-tech support network

November 30, 2020 by  
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Why corporate partners are essential for Third Derivative, a new climate-tech support network Heather Clancy Mon, 11/30/2020 – 03:00 Climate tech is more important than ever, but the systemic challenges entrepreneurs face in shepherding these solutions to commercial success is formidable. Most have incredibly long R&D lead times, while the systems that typically support startups cater to ones promising shorter-term payoffs. That’s why earlier this year, clean economy nonprofits Rocky Mountain Institute — known for its thought leadership on climate change issues — and New Energy Nexus — with deep bottom-up resources for founders — combined forces to create a joint venture centered on finding and scaling climate-tech startups focused addressing climate change across the electric grid, transportation, buildings, manufacturing and agriculture. Their mission: create a network of financial, technical and market development resources — including credible and powerful corporate connections — that gets these critically important solutions to commercial scale more quickly. The thesis: The most successful climate-tech startups will be those with early access to economic analysis, policy resources, financing and technical support. This week, the venture, Third Derivative (D3), is launching with a portfolio of close to 50 startups (both early stage and those closer to commercial readiness) and the support of nine corporate partners and nine venture capital firms. D3 is particularly interested in accelerating solutions for “hard to abate sectors” where there aren’t currently good options for decarbonization, according to its website. It is incredibly hard for investors to source, vet and execute investments across the many varied climate solution sectors. Of the 50-ish startup companies announced this week — dubbed ” Cohort 417 ” (for the peak of 417.1 parts per million in atmospheric CO2 concentration recorded in May 2020 — more than two-thirds are led by founders who are women, veterans or people of color, said Third Derivative co-founder and CEO Bryan Hassin. “We went out to meet them where they are,” he said. Both RMI and New Energy Nexus have committed “hundreds” of their market experts to supporting the venture with research, technical expertise and commercialization advice. The organization seeks to bridge knowledge and funding gaps at multiple phases of a startup’s life cycle — moving from basic research into a spinout; product development; demonstrations and market validation efforts; and commercial deployment. RMI and New Energy Nexus are a powerful combo, but the corporate connections and venture resources make the initiative unique by providing that active perspective far earlier in the innovation process, Hassin said, pointing to his own past career as a climate-tech entrepreneur with a background in nanomaterials, off-grid solar energy and artificial intelligence. “We have a systems-level problem that we’re working on here,” he said. “I think we can all agree that more is necessary.” Corporate support equals path to commercialization D3 certainly packs a punch from day one, with nine corporations lined up as backers that have pledged to provide technical resources and financial support over the next three years. That initial group includes AT&T, BP Ventures, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Engie, Envision Energy, FedEx, Microsoft, Shell and Wells Fargo. Together, these big companies represent almost $3 trillion in market capitalization, although the energy company valuations are particularly subject to fluctuation at this time. These companies are “incredibly motivated and visionary,” Hassin said. They will play a hands-on role in startup mentorship and pilot projects, along with any other businesses that choose to join. But this isn’t just about money. “It doesn’t do any good for them to come in and just write a check,” Hassin said. Nine venture firms — representing more than $2 billion in funding and four continents — also have stepped up to support Third Derivative: Imperative Ventures, Skyview Ventures and Volo Earth Ventures from the U.S.; Chrysalix and Emerald Technology Partners from Europe; Factor[e] and Social Alpha from Africa/India; and Tsing Capital and CRCM from China. “It is incredibly hard for investors to source, vet and execute investments across the many varied climate solution sectors,” said Jan Van Dokkum, the former Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers partner who became chairman of Imperative in 2019, in a statement. “We see enormous value in Third Derivative applying RMI’s market knowledge and networks to cultivate a pipeline of game-changing climate-tech ventures validated by corporate partners. We are excited to make seed investments in those startups, and our ability to work with them over the duration of the program should dramatically increase their investability by the time they are ready for follow-on funding.” These are big ambitious goals for us, and we feel the sense of urgency to find scalable solutions that can help us meet both of them. AT&T, which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2035 for its own operations and is also interested in supporting technologies that help its customers work toward similar goals, was intrigued by the “rigor” that Third Derivative is using to evaluate potential portfolio companies and in allowing corporate partners to be part of that process. That was one reason it decided to shell out $900,000 for its first three years in the program, said John Schulz, director of sustainability integration for AT&T. The other motivator: the diversity of perspective the venture offers. “These are big ambitious goals for us, and we feel the sense of urgency to find scalable solutions that can help us meet both of them,” Schulz said. Aside from financial backing, AT&T is providing technical resources, especially those focused on how the various technologies being pioneered by D3 companies might be integrated with the internet of things — a major business development focus for the telecommunications company. “What are the connectivity solutions that could be the key to unlock success? That’s of particular interest,” Schulz said. A wide range of solutions D3 actually launched the application process for its first cohort in the spring and received more than 600 applications — many for what Schulz described as “mind-blowing” innovations. The corporate partners were actively involved with evaluating and recommending selections among the 200 finalists, which represent advances in hardware and business models and, to a lesser extent, software. They also represent countries including India, Indonesia, China and Italy, although the initial selections are weighted to companies from North America. “We were a little overwhelmed by the enthusiasm,” Schulz said. Some companies from the first cohort include: Antora Energy : A Stanford-born effort (also backed by Cyclotron Road) working on ultra-low-cost energy storage that could have applications as wind and solar farms. Blue Frontier : A startup supported by NREL, NYSERDA and others that is using saltwater energy-storage technology to create “hyper-efficient” air conditioners. Frost Methane :   An offsets market being created around methane flaring activities Kanin Energy : A venture focused on turning industrial waste heat into an emissions-free energy source. Membrion : A materials company developing environmentally friendly filtration membranes. Silvia Terra : A forest-mapping startup. TexPower : A small team working on cobalt-free batteries. Each D3 startup receives a $100,000 convertible note as well as the potential for $250 million in follow-on funding from the venture capital network that’s part of the program. Hassin said the mentorship process initially will last 16 months, but startups will be encouraged to remain connected. What’s more, companies will be added on an ongoing basis: applications will open up again in December. “We think there is value to working with a cohort for a while,” he said.  Pull Quote It is incredibly hard for investors to source, vet and execute investments across the many varied climate solution sectors. These are big ambitious goals for us, and we feel the sense of urgency to find scalable solutions that can help us meet both of them. Topics Innovation Climate Tech 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 Antora Energy, one of the Third Derivative startups, in the lab (L. to R: Tarun Narayan, David Bierman, Andrew Ponec, Justin Briggs) Courtesy of Cyclotron Road Close Authorship

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Introducing … GreenFin 21

November 30, 2020 by  
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Introducing … GreenFin 21 Joel Makower Mon, 11/30/2020 – 02:11 The world of environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting and investing has ramped up significantly over the past couple years, even more so during 2020, when social risks and reporting became front and center for many companies and investors. Combine that with the growth of related finance products and services — sustainability-linked loans and bonds — and you can find sustainability sitting squarely on Wall Street. We call it GreenFin, our portmanteau for “green finance.” It may well be the most dynamic and impactful aspect of sustainable business today. Which is why GreenBiz Group is pleased to announce GreenFin 21 , the launch of a new annual event, virtual for now, taking place April 13-14. GreenFin will join our other annual event brands — GreenBiz , Circularity and VERGE — on the sustainability conference calendar. For all the sustainability reporting that companies serve up each year, it doesn’t always represent the kinds of data that investors need to assess corporate risk and opportunity. GreenFin 21 is the natural evolution of the GreenFin Summits we ran at our GreenBiz conferences in 2019 and 2020 . There, we convened a small group of professionals (100 in 2019, 200 in 2020) representing the ESG and sustainable finance ecosystem: corporate reporters (including those in sustainability, investor relations and corporate finance roles); institutional investors and pension funds; ESG rating and ranking organizations; and financial institutions, notably the world’s largest banks. Tower of Babel What spurred us to launch the summits back in 2019 was the realization that these parties weren’t always speaking the same language or understanding one another’s needs. For example, for all the sustainability reporting that companies serve up each year, it doesn’t always represent the kinds of data that investors need to assess corporate risk and opportunity. For their part, investors may not be asking the questions companies most want to answer. And neither side may fully understand how various parties are using this fast-growing cache of data. At the 2019 and 2020 summits, our goal was to have a candid conversation in a safe space to address this financial Tower of Babel. Based on the enthusiastic feedback we received, we succeeded. GreenFin 21 will build on that success, adding in the rapidly evolving world of sustainable finance products and services, to share what’s working, what can work better, and the path forward. It’s no small matter. ESG, as we’ve noted , has been one of investing’s bright spots in 2020, with tens of billions of dollars flowing into ESG-themed funds every quarter. According to Morningstar, ESG funds reached the $1 trillion milestone sometime during the second quarter of the year. Much of the action is taking place in Europe, where PwC predicted that ESG funds — “a central tenet of the investment landscape” — could outpace traditional funds by 2025. U.S. investors, for their part, are catching up. So, too, the growth of ESG-related bonds and loans . Corporate bond offerings focusing on sustainability and social issues are growing each quarter, and there’s a burgeoning market for loans linked to a company’s ESG performance or other sustainability metrics. As we reported recently , global green bond issuance shot past the $1 trillion mark in September. Still, there’s massive room for growth. Fully 96 percent of U.S. institutional investors, and 91 percent across six global markets, expect their firm to increase prioritization of ESG as an investment criterion, according to a recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey of institutional investors. Three in four U.S. individual investors said they are not familiar with the concept of sustainable investing, having heard little or nothing about it, according to a Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey released in April. Wild West The explosive growth of green finance makes sense. Increased investor interest in climate risk and, more recently, biodiversity risk is fueling the growth of several funds, as is an increased societal focus on economic, gender and racial equity. All of these issues are heading inexorably toward tipping points. Investors are increasingly moving money accordingly. Still, the markets for sustainable investing and finance are young and the standards are evolving or, in some cases, don’t yet fully exist. It’s still the Wild West out there. There are glimmers of hope . Just last week, for example, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and the International Integrated Reporting Council announced their intention to merge into a unified organization, the Value Reporting Foundation, “providing investors and corporates with a comprehensive corporate reporting framework across the full range of enterprise value drivers and standards to drive global sustainability performance,” according to the press release . Earlier this year, SASB and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) announced their intention to collaborate. Such consolidation and collaboration are sorely needed to truly catalyze the full potential of sustainable finance. Ultimately, all of this relies on lots of data — ESG data — being compiled by a relatively small number of firms whose ratings can wield outsized clout among investors. The data is used to analyze stocks, of course, but also to assess creditworthiness and possibly even help determine whether a company is a great place to work. But where is this data coming from? How is it compiled? Who owns it? Is it accurate? Why do different ratings organizations assess the same company differently? These are among the questions still to be addressed. And these are among the topics we’ll be covering at GreenFin. We’ll be joined by our convening partner, S&P Global, along with a who’s who of community partners, including BSR, Capitals Coalition, CDP, Ceres, Competent Boards, GRI, Intentional Endowments Network, National Investor Relations Institute, Responsible Asset Owners, SASB, United Nations Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. We’re also excited to have a growing corps of advisory board members and sponsors, including from Citi, CDP, ERM, HP Inc., Intel, Morgan Stanley, SASB, S&P Global, State Street and Wells Fargo — with more to come. ( Let me know if you are interested.) Today, we’ve launched a call for speakers as well as a page to request an invitation . I hope you’ll join us for this landmark event. Pull Quote For all the sustainability reporting that companies serve up each year, it doesn’t always represent the kinds of data that investors need to assess corporate risk and opportunity. Topics Finance & Investing Reporting ESG GreenFin 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

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Niraamaya Retreat honors traditional design with local materials

November 19, 2020 by  
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Located in Vayitharamattom, Kumarakom in the lakefront region of Southern India, the Niraamaya Retreat is a haven for wellness and rejuvenation with sustainable design elements throughout. A product of Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd, an award-winning architectural practice based in India, the 65,000-square-foot retreat offers a contemporary feel while still honoring the traditional style of the region with locally sourced building materials. The boutique resort is spread across seven acres facing Lake Vembanad and includes 27 independent luxury villas, two restaurants, a health club, a wellness center and a spa. The spa features multiple treatment rooms, a pool and yoga pavilions, while the business center contains meeting rooms and an amphitheater. Related: These charming timber cabins in South India are a retreat for nature lovers What sets this stunning coastal escape apart from the rest are the nods to classical Kerala architecture, a design style that incorporates traditional elements like sloping roofs, Mogappus and Charupadi, a type of built-in, ventilated porch bench. Locally sourced materials such as clay tiles for the roofing, granite pavilions and dados, laterite and wood are featured in the construction work. According to the designers, one of the biggest challenges for the project came in the form of high rainfall and water stagnation due to the site’s unique contours. To combat this, they enabled a network of natural bodies of water to allow for smooth surface runoff , even in the event of heavy monsoon showers. The landscape can only be described as tropical yet well-groomed, with native trees and plants leading to the onsite river. The intimate villas are scattered thoughtfully about the property, connected with peaceful pathways that wind through the lush surroundings. Each villa is about 100 square meters in size and includes a private moot pond, an open shower, a portico and bed facing the lake as well as a semi-open private landscaped area. + Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd Images via Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd

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100 pilot whales rescued after mass stranding in Sri Lanka

November 6, 2020 by  
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When more than 100 pilot whales washed up on a Sri Lankan beach, heroic volunteers spent all night helping these marine mammals get past the waves and safely back to sea. They managed to save at least 100 whales, although five died at the scene. The short-finned pilot whales landed in Panadura, a town about 20 miles from Colombo, the nation’s capital. Local fishermen first noticed the beached whales in the early afternoon of November 2. “They first appeared as a dark patch in the horizon and kept on moving toward the shore like a giant wave,” said fisherman Upul Ranjith, as reported in Mongabay . But as volunteers tried to push the whales back into the water, the animals continued to wash back up on the beach. Related: Record number of pilot whales get stranded, die in Tasmania The reason the whales beached themselves is still undetermined. Pilot whales are known for extremely sociable, pack behavior. When one strays too close to shore, others may follow. It’s possible that a joint naval exercise involving India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. might have disrupted the whales’ sonar. Short-finned pilot whales measure about 12 to 18 feet in length and are especially prone to beaching en masse. Twenty-eight people from the local coast guard station and dozens of local volunteers worked together in the whale rescue operation. The COVID-19 lockdown complicated matters, as participants had to get special curfew passes. “Rescuing these animals is not just about rolling them out to sea again,” marine mammal expert Asha de Vos told Mongabay. “It’s a little more complicated than that as it is important to refloat the animals as soon as possible and guide them back to deeper waters to prevent them getting pushed back to the shore.” De Vos likened the whales’ efforts to get past waves and return to open sea as being stuck on a treadmill for hours. Personal watercraft owners saved the day. They were enlisted to tow the animals out to sea — a dangerous proposition both for the whales and the rescuers. The entire mission took about 16 hours, but the ending was — for the most part — a happy one. Via Mongabay Image via Bernhard Stärck

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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

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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Student designs inflatable bamboo greenhouses for sustainable farming

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

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