Is harmonization of reporting standards possible or even desirable?

March 24, 2021 by  
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Is harmonization of reporting standards possible or even desirable? Antonio Vives Wed, 03/24/2021 – 01:14 Interest in corporate sustainability metrics has skyrocketed in the last few years, particularly in the financial industry. With it has come a surge in demand for information related to these activities, one accommodated by existing reporting standards and frameworks produced by organizations such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), CDP and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), with more being proposed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation and the European Union. This data is collected and transformed by a wide variety of actors in the sustainability information industry for use by stakeholders and, particularly, investors. Given the proliferation of reporting and aggregating and disaggregating of information, over which there is no consensus, there has been widespread dissatisfaction about the lack of harmonization and comparability In response, there have been attempts at harmonization by the standard setters, based on the assumption that it is feasible and desirable. I’m not sure it’s either. Is harmonization possible or even desirable? If harmonization means consensus on a single standard, then the answer is most likely no. Why? Let’s consider four major components of the context in which this ecosystem operates. The object of reporting: It is nonfinancial metrics that purportedly represent the sustainability of the company. This is a fuzzy concept, different for each company, depending on the context in which operates. It changes with time, the material stakeholders affected and those it wants to affect, the actions of competitors and the pressure they receive from their stakeholders, among other factors. To get a sense of this, contrast the large differences in the sustainability ratings of a given company, by different raters based on sustainability information, with the generalized agreements in their respective credit ratings which are based on financial information. Quantification of the information: A significant, critical portion of the information required to assess sustainability is simply not quantifiable: culture; values; processes; strategies; product responsibility; quality of management, among others. Does the existence of a sustainability strategy or a board committee constitute sustainability? What is a measure of sustainability? Inputs such as the number of dollars spent on teaching the code of ethics; or outputs such as the number of hours taught; or results such as the number of cases considered by the ethics committee and its decisions; or impact such as the change brought about in the culture of the company? Which of these four attributes are reported through ESG indicators? Which ones indicate a potential financial impact? The users of the information: Every stakeholder uses a very different lens to make their decisions — from investors to managers to the community, employees, labor unions and governments. Each group is concerned about the impact on their stakes. Most users, especially those in the financial markets, are used to the strictures of financial accounting and want information that is comparable, relevant and reliable, among other attributes. But comparability requires the reduction to a minimum set of common information and its indicators, that risk losing relevance and reliability. Comparability requires generalization, but relevance requires specificity. And reliability requires consistency of the information through time and across providers. It’s hard to achieve all three, simultaneously. A given percentage of women on the board may be quite an achievement for one company but a serious deficiency in another. The sustainability information industry is composed of many varied actors. Most are in it for profit, each one with its own stake and market to protect and expand. There are standard-setters (GRI, SASB et al), compilers of information (Bloomberg et al), ratings companies (S&P Global et al), index providers (MSCI et al), accounting firms (the Big Four et al), and consultants on sustainability and reporting (Sustainalytics et al). According to the Reporting Exchange , there are over 650 ratings firms and more than 500 national reporting requirements. MSCI alone produces more than 1,500 equity and fixed income ESG indices. Blomberg collects information on over 700 indicators. Will they all accept to provide the same information, the same indicators, the same reports, use the same methodology for ratings and indices? (SASB has asked them to concentrate on their indicators.) What is possible? Based on these considerations, it looks difficult and maybe not even desirable to achieve harmonization. The needs of investors, which are more homogeneous and focused, seem to offer the most promise but with caveats: It would require a consensus about what is meant by sustainability and its measurement. Currently, each of over 650 sustainability raters has its own model of what sustainability means, using only quantifiable information, with their specific indicators and relative importance weighted to calculate a score. Finding consensus would require them to agree on a core set of comparable measures applicable to all companies, and another set specific to the industry, as in the SASB standards and the new WEF proposal. A third set of measures specific to each company, as proposed by the Yale Initiative on Sustainable Finance , would be added. Comparability requires generalization, but relevance requires specificity. This approach would please fund managers and analysts, as it would greatly simplify their work and even reduce potential legal liabilities by contending that their decisions are based on an accepted ESG reporting standard. It would enhance comparability but reduce relevance. It could disincentivize companies to differentiate themselves based on their sustainability . It also might motivate companies to gear their sustainability strategies to achieve better ratings and manage to specific indicators, not necessarily to have a better impact on society. A broader possibility would be for GRI to accept that its standards should be useful to investors and expand them, or for SASB/IIRC to accept that theirs also must serve all stakeholders and expand them. Either should subsume proposals such as the one offered by the WEF. But to please everybody, the resulting framework would be complex and unwieldy. It would involve a big cultural change and capitulation to the standards that prevailed. It does not look politically feasible, in the medium term, that the aforementioned institutions will agree to subsume their standards into a single entity. At the very minimum, I believe two standards will coexist — one to respond to the needs of finance providers and the other to the needs of all stakeholders. And the myriad indicators, indices and ratings provided by the extensive market of sustainability information would not disappear. Is reduction to a single reporting standard desirable? Yes, for some, but not for all stakeholders. Is it feasible? Yes, if one is willing to achieve simplicity and comparability at the expense of relevance and impact. Pull Quote Comparability requires generalization, but relevance requires specificity. Topics Reporting 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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Is harmonization of reporting standards possible or even desirable?

Aviation is plotting a sustainable course

March 22, 2021 by  
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Aviation is plotting a sustainable course Joel Makower Mon, 03/22/2021 – 00:05 This article originally appeared in the State of Green Business 2021. You can download the entire report here . Modern aviation had never seen a year like 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a near-total halt in air travel, with airlines hemorrhaging billions of dollars and shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs. It wasn’t just that the economy was in a holding pattern. People also didn’t want to spend hours inside a closed container with scores of their fellow humans. Add to that the rise of virtual meetings and sales calls, and suddenly there were far fewer reasons to go to an airport. That forced grounding provided airlines with a reckoning — and an opportunity for a reset. And it begs the question: Can sustainable aviation finally get off the ground? The answer is yes. But like modern planes themselves, a lot of moving parts are involved. In the climate world, aviation is referred to as a hard-to-abate sector, alongside other heavy industries — shipping, aluminum, cement and concrete, among others — that aren’t easy to decarbonize through redesign or electrification. Regardless, pressure has been on aviation to join other sectors in dramatically cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The industry has responded or at least has been pushed to do better. In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a U.N. body, set a course for airlines to offset emissions of international flights above a 2019-20 baseline. In other words, aviation emissions wouldn’t grow beyond the baseline, even as air travel increased. The pandemic led ICAO to scale back the program, CORSIA (for Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), to make it easier for airlines to comply. The sooner that the costs of carbon control are included in the costs of doing business, the sooner new technologies will be developed. That may have been shortsighted. Research has found that robust implementation of CORSIA could significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact, and that aviation’s contribution to future warming could be cut by roughly 90 percent if the sector aggressively pursued decarbonization. “As airlines scramble to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, they can’t afford to ignore the looming global crisis of climate change,” said Annie Petsonk, an aviation expert at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Real leadership means setting the aviation sector on a path toward net-zero climate impacts as swiftly as possible. The sooner that the costs of carbon control are included in the costs of doing business, the sooner new technologies will be developed.”  Three things can be done to reduce aviation’s climate impact. Some measures, such as fuel efficiency, go straight to airlines’ bottom line. Fuel costs account for about 24 percent of operating expenses, according to the International Air Transport Association. Anything airlines can do to cut that — through improved taxiing or takeoff and landing practices, for example — saves both costs and emissions. The heavier lift comes from sustainable aviation fuel — SAF, for short — which can be made from a variety of substances, including used fats and oil as well as agricultural waste. A so-called “drop-in fuel,” it can directly substitute for Jet A-1, the fuel most commonly used globally in jet engines, although most jets can accommodate mixes that include no more than about 50 percent SAF. To date, SAF is expensive — several times the price of Jet A-1 — and its availability is extremely limited. Still, airlines are fueling up where they can — notably, at California airports, thanks to a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard designed to decrease the carbon intensity of the Golden State’s transportation, and in Europe, where governments are poised this year to mandate the growth of SAF. At airports in San Francisco and Frankfurt, for example, some planes already fuel up with a blend that includes a tiny amount of SAF — less than 1 percent, almost literally a drop in the bucket. That drop could grow considerably. A bill introduced in the U.S. Congress in November aims to set a national goal for SAF to enable the U.S. aviation sector to achieve a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050. Policy already is playing a key role elsewhere. Norway has mandated that 30 percent of aviation fuel in the country must be sustainable by 2030 and that all short-haul flights be 100 percent electric by 2040. Canada implemented a carbon tax on domestic flights, based on the amount of fuel used. Germany has raised taxes on intra-European flights and cut taxes on train travel. Airlines, for their part, are getting on board. United Airlines began buying SAF in 2013, and in 2016 became the first airline to use SAF on a continuous basis. Last year, JetBlue agreed to purchase SAF from Finnish company Neste and began using SAF on flights from San Francisco. Delta has committed $1 billion to become the world’s first carbon-neutral airline, and signed SAF offtake agreements with two biofuel producers. Japan Airlines said it will start using biofuel made from household waste beginning in 2022. Neste is working with Lufthansa, Finnair and KLM on sustainable fuel programs. It’s not just passenger carriers. Last year, Amazon Air, logistics arm of the online retailer, said it plans to buy 6 million gallons of SAF via a division of Shell and produced by World Energy.  Another encouraging sign is the ability to push the envelope on SAF’s limitations. Late last year, for example, aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce announced it is testing 100 percent SAF on next-gen engines. Depending on who you ask, it could be between 10 and 30 years before electric and hydrogen planes are hurtling through the skies in significant numbers. And fuel makers are getting pumped up about SAF. In September, for example, Shell Aviation and Neste agreed to collaborate to increase the production of SAF. That sort of partnership — Shell and Neste are also SAF competitors — will be needed to bring greener aviation fuels to scale. So, too, will the participation of airports, plane manufacturers, fuel blenders and other parts of the aviation value chain. Notably, the flying public — especially corporate travel buyers — can send critical demand signals to help accelerate sustainable aviation’s growth. For example, Microsoft last year said it would purchase SAF credits from SkyNRG, with the SAF delivered to the airport fueling system used by Alaska Airlines for all flights between its global headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and California. Given SAF’s limitations, airlines are turning to carbon offsets as the third strategy for making aviation sustainable. CORSIA — “carbon offset” is part of its name — requires operators to purchase carbon offsets to cover emissions. Shell is among the companies making significant bets on offsets, with trading operations on three continents. But offsetting is seen as transitional — and controversial: Some critics view it as greenwash. Longer-term fixes, such as hydrogen technologies and batteries, stand to make air travel nearly emissions-free. Airplane electrification is gradually gaining altitude, at least for shorter-hop flights. Depending on who you ask, it could be between 10 and 30 years before electric and hydrogen planes are hurtling through the skies in significant numbers.  And, of course, there’s the option of not flying at all, or at least not as much. Such movements as #flygskam (“flight shaming”) and Fridays for Future are having an impact, particularly among younger travelers. And some airlines are feeling the heat. KLM’s Fly Responsibly campaign asks, “Could you take the train instead?” After all, the most sustainable flight is the one you don’t take. Pull Quote The sooner that the costs of carbon control are included in the costs of doing business, the sooner new technologies will be developed. Depending on who you ask, it could be between 10 and 30 years before electric and hydrogen planes are hurtling through the skies in significant numbers. Topics State of Green Business Report Transportation & Mobility 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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Aviation is plotting a sustainable course

Episode 260: Disclosure dialogue, your employees want purpose

March 19, 2021 by  
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Episode 260: Disclosure dialogue, your employees want purpose Heather Clancy Fri, 03/19/2021 – 00:15 Week in Review Stories discussed this week (3:50). The SEC’s change of climate on climate change and ESG Car companies are now battery companies Who wants to be a climate-tech billionaire? Features Whither sustainability reporting standards? (23:45) The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation is moving forward with a plan to set up a board that would establish international standards for sustainability reporting. Janine Guillot, chief executive of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, chats about the implications for corporate disclosures. A test of workforce resilience (34:10) Susan Hunt Stevens, chief executive of WeSpire, discusses findings of the advisory firm’s 10th annual survey on employee engagement. The biggest surprise? Respondents suggest there has been a decrease in access to diversity, equity and inclusion programs over the past year. What gives?  *Music in this episode by Lee Rosevere : “Here’s the Thing,” “I’m Going for a Coffee,” “Curiosity,” “And So Then” and “4th Ave Walkup” Stay connected To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify . Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at 350@greenbiz.com . Topics Podcast Finance & Investing Careers Employee Engagement Collective Insight GreenBiz 350 Podcast Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 49:28 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz Close Authorship

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Episode 260: Disclosure dialogue, your employees want purpose

Get ready, Corporate America: The carbon disclosure mandates are coming

March 17, 2021 by  
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Get ready, Corporate America: The carbon disclosure mandates are coming Tim Mohin Wed, 03/17/2021 – 01:00 A slew of announcements earlier this month point to new regulations on carbon disclosure. Corporate America better get ready. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has been particularly busy. Acting chairwoman Allison Herren Lee issued a public statement directing the SEC staff “to enhance its focus on climate-related disclosure in public company filings.” In a series of tweets , Lee also aligned with the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) statement of an “urgent need to improve the consistency, comparability, and reliability of sustainability reporting, with an initial focus on climate change-related risks and opportunities.” Also earlier this month, the SEC hired its first senior policy adviser for climate and ESG . (See a partial transcript from Lee’s speech earlier this week here .) The message is clear: Carbon disclosure will be mandatory. It’s undeniable that climate risks and opportunities are material to corporate performance and must be included in audited financial statements. This is long overdue, but there can be no doubt that climate disclosure will become a fixture for publicly traded companies. Britain , New Zealand and Switzerland already have moved forward with unprecedented speed to require disclosures aligned with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The TCFD, created by the G20 Financial Stability Board, issued its disclosure recommendations back 2017. Since then, thousands of companies, governments and others have lined up in support.  It’s undeniable that climate risks and opportunities are material to corporate performance and must be included in audited financial statements. T While coming mandates are clear, the required disclosures are still a bit murky. There is real momentum behind the IFRS Foundation’s move to develop international “sustainability reporting” standards . The trustees meeting this month may shed some more light, but don’t hold your breath; the IFRS already has stated that it will “produce a definitive proposal (including a road map with timeline) by the end of September 2021, and possibly leading to an announcement on the establishment of a sustainability standards board at the meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in November 2021.” With the slow pace of standards development, companies are facing uncertainty about what information to collect. While the requirements are unclear, carbon accounting procedures are well established. The greenhouse gas protocol has been around for many years and sets out a detailed process (more than 700 pages) for measuring corporate carbon footprints. While we wait to see what the required disclosures will be, companies can get a leg up by ensuring that their current carbon reporting is as aligned as possible with the greenhouse gas protocol. Accounting for carbon emissions from large enterprises is a daunting job. Complex multinational enterprises conduct thousands of carbon-generating transactions each day. Adding to the challenge is the Scope 3 problem: accounting for the carbon generated upstream (across the supply chain, for example) and downstream (products). Even for leading companies, creating assured carbon disclosures is hard work and will require new expertise, collaborations and enterprise-level technologies to streamline the process. Companies should start making those carbon finance hires today. Corporate leaders and boards also would be wise to get ahead of these regulations and take stock of their carbon management practices now. Having worked for three Fortune 500 companies, I can say firsthand that they won’t like what they find. Carbon management and disclosure is typically done on spreadsheets once per year and the data can be months old. This is not a management system; it’s a way to track annual performance.  Adding to these gaps is the carbon trading market. Carbon prices in Europe are skyrocketing  — surging 60 percent since November — on the news of impending regulation. Simultaneously, there are efforts in Europe and the U.S . to assign monetary value to each ton of carbon, with the Biden administration’s reinvigoration of the “social cost of carbon” initiative.   And if these developments weren’t enough of a wakeup call, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, made it very clear it would hold the companies it invests in accountable for their carbon management. With $8 trillion under management, this would touch just about every company. Just to make the signal clearer, BlackRock doubled down by signaling it would vote against the boards who fail to meet its standards. Alarm bells are ringing in the C-suite and boardrooms. Corporate compliance officers will be up late scrambling to develop their carbon disclosure strategy. While there is a lot of work to be done, new resources emerge every day to help companies navigate this challenge.   After a long career in the sustainability space, it is gratifying to witness the tipping point where sustainability enters the mainstream of global commerce. It’s about time.  Pull Quote It’s undeniable that climate risks and opportunities are material to corporate performance and must be included in audited financial statements. T Topics Finance & Investing Reporting 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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Get ready, Corporate America: The carbon disclosure mandates are coming

Hacking solutions to ‘time-sensitive’ climate problems

March 11, 2021 by  
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Hacking solutions to ‘time-sensitive’ climate problems Shana Rappaport Thu, 03/11/2021 – 01:03 For more essays and articles by Shana Rapport, sign up for VERGE Weekly , one of our free newsletters. Sanjana Paul is a 23-year-old scientist, electrical engineer and environmental activist on a mission.  Yes, she’s worked at NASA. But her mission isn’t to explore the outer edges of the solar system. Instead, it’s to harness the full power of technology and the ingenuity of young people to solve our most pressing environmental challenges — right here on Earth.  In addition to her former role as a junior atmospheric science software developer at NASA and her current work as a researcher at MIT, Sanjana is founder and executive director of Earth Hacks , an organization that hosts hackathons for college students to combat the climate crisis.  I caught up recently with her to talk about technology innovation, climate solutions and environmental justice. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. Shana Rappaport: Before we get into Earth Hacks’ mission, let’s start with your own passion for innovation. What technologies are you personally most excited about or inventions are you most proud of? Sanjana Paul: That’s a great question, and not an easy one because the answer changes every few months. The technology landscape is evolving so rapidly and always reflective of the society that we live in.  I think I’ll have to stick with a classic and choose harnessing the photoelectric effect through solar panels. The trajectory we’re on of being a planet powered by the sun is such a powerful way to support a growing, thriving society. Rappaport: You also have some inventions of your own. Can you speak briefly to those?  Paul: I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of different hardware prototyping projects that I’m very proud of. One is what’s now the Sentinel Project at Conservation X Labs , which is a next-gen camera trap for wildlife conservation that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to assist wildlife conservationists. Another is a robot that I created with a partner of mine, FLOATIBOI , that captures marine plastic debris in coastal areas using visual identification. [Editor’s note: FLOATIBOI is short for Floating Long-term Oceanic Autonomous Trawler Incorporating Buoyant Object Identification.] Rappaport: You founded Earth Hacks in 2018 to leverage the power of the hackathon innovation model in direct service of climate education and solutions. Talk a little bit about what set you on this journey. Paul: I used to go to hackathons as a way to boost my coding skills and supplement what I was learning as an electrical engineering and physics student. But I’d go to these hackathons and find myself stunned because the problems that they presented seemed completely out of touch with the reality that we are living in. They seemed like things only third-year computer science majors would care about.  So, I started to wonder: If hackathons are a place where really smart people come to essentially give up their whole weekends to work on problems, why are we not presenting societally relevant problems? And why are we not presenting really time-sensitive problems, like climate change, which is the most time-sensitive issue we have ever faced as a species? I got a group of my friends together, and we decided to have environmental hackathons as a space to engage with environmental issues and actually start imagining what we can do about them. It all spiraled from there. We started out with one in Richmond, Virginia, and then started getting contacted by students across the country and eventually across the world. We formed an organization around it, and now we’re fortunate to have worked with people from every inhabited continent on the planet — on hackathons ranging from creating urban heat island maps to creating better tools for conservationists working with endangered species. Rappaport: The EarthHacks model is also working to ensure that great ideas don’t just get generated at these student-driven hackathons but are actually implemented. What are some of the real-world projects that have come out of them so far? Paul: That’s a great question, and before I dive into it, I just want to say that one amazing part of all this is that nothing is ever really lost at these hackathons. Even if no cool inventions or startups come out of them, we’re still fortunate that this is an educational opportunity — students still walk away learning about these issues and engaging with them more closely than they did before. That said, we’ve seen some really incredible projects come out, already being put to work in really interesting ways.  We collaborated with a startup called Urban Canopy and with scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab — working with satellite data from the International Space Station to create the world’s first public map of urban heat islands. We basically gave students data, said, “Pick a city, plot the land surface temperature and put it on a map.” This told us where urban heat is most concentrated, which we can hand over to city planners or researchers, and hopefully guide policy so that people have to deal less with extreme heat.  Another example is endangered species conservation. We worked with a bunch of nonprofit organizations who focus on vaquitas — a very endangered porpoise that lives in the Sea of Cortez. We were able to create technical tools for the conservation teams to better track the animals and some of the key issues surrounding them; and to engage law students to draft a white paper that is going to go public soon with real recommendations to lawmakers about how to deal with wildlife crime. We also created a public outreach campaign, because no one is going to do anything about endangered species if they don’t know about them.  Rappaport: Let’s talk about the intersection of tech, climate and social issues. What are your aspirations for how EarthHacks, and the tech industry more broadly, can work to advance environmental justice?  Paul: First, I just want to acknowledge that, for a long time, I think the environmental movement as a whole was really focused on environmental issues as somewhat abstract, as separate from us. Maybe they affect species in far-off places or natural landmarks whose beauty we marvel at but we’ve never seen in person.  But fundamentally, the climate crisis is about people, right? It’s about whether we’re going to have the ability to live happy, healthy lives. Because of that, the climate crisis is inherently tied into social justice and social crises. That’s why I think that taking a more complete view of climate is so critical. The single biggest thing that business leaders today can do to help young people with aspirations is to take drastic action on climate, so that we have the time and space to grow up and to be business leaders ourselves. Second, it’s the practical thing to do. If we ignore how social issues are a huge chunk of the climate problem, and how it’s actually playing out, we’re not going to be able to meaningfully solve either. For the tech industry, specifically, the movement for social, racial and gender equality needs to become integrated into all of the core actions that we take — not just an extra thing to do. Social equity needs to be included in decision-making processes and planning from the very start.  If we don’t work to address these issues now, we’re not going to be able to when we’re overwhelmed by changing temperatures and extreme storms. Even though these can be uncomfortable conversations, we need to expand the cultural window of where they happen and make sure that they happen everywhere all the time. Rappaport: You’re speaking to an audience of business leaders. What kind of support can the private sector provide to you and other young technologists committed to solving environmental challenges, either as corporate partners or as intergenerational allies? Paul: I love the phrase “intergenerational allies” — and I think that’s key. The single biggest thing that business leaders today can do to help young people with aspirations is to take drastic action on climate, so that we have the time and space to grow up and to be business leaders ourselves.  The other smaller step that everyone can take is, put simply, to engage. All of the students we work with at our hackathons are always looking for more opportunities. They’re looking for people to learn from, to come and speak at their events, to mentor them. They’re looking for places to work that are advancing sustainability. So, just engaging with us, reaching out and saying, “Hey, we’d like to support you in some way” — that’s hugely meaningful to us. There are so many different ways to get involved, but it’s always going to start with just reaching out. Pull Quote The single biggest thing that business leaders today can do to help young people with aspirations is to take drastic action on climate, so that we have the time and space to grow up and to be business leaders ourselves. Topics Innovation Featured Column On the VERGE Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off An Earth Hacks hackathon in 2019.

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Orlando’s journey to accelerate sustainability and resilience

March 11, 2021 by  
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Orlando’s journey to accelerate sustainability and resilience Chris Castro Thu, 03/11/2021 – 01:00 Cities are home to more than 50 percent of the global population and as a result are presented with ever-growing challenges, including finding a balance between social equity, economic vitality and environmental sustainability. Cities also have extraordinary potential to enable change and the ability to find harmony between people, prosperity and the planet that creates a better future for all. Recognizing this, member-countries of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals , including a historic goal on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities: “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by 2030, leaving no person, place or ecosystem behind. This global framework continues to be centered as a Rosetta Stone to advance humanity in a more sustainable direction. I’m a second-generation Cuban-American from Miami. I’m also a social entrepreneur, community organizer and now director of sustainability and resilience for the city of Orlando. In my role, I advise Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and am tasked with making Orlando a showcase model for the U.N.’s sustainable cities vision and making our city a great place, to live, work, learn and play. Cities have extraordinary potential to enable change and to find harmony between people, prosperity and the planet. Before I get to details about my day job, it’s important to share my experiences where things actually get done: the community. Over the last 15 years, I’ve been actively engaged in the Central Florida community through my work with several nonprofit NGOs, social enterprises, academia, community groups and businesses chambers to engage a wide range of individuals in advancing the sustainable cities vision, including USGBC-Florida, Florida Green Chamber of Commerce (FGCC), Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, Florida Renewable Energy Association (FREA), Solar United Neighborhoods of Florida (FL SUN), Global Shapers Orlando and Climate Reality Project. One organization that is near and dear to my heart is Ideas For Us , a U.N.-accredited NGO that works to develop, fund and scale local solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals worldwide. In 2008, I co-founded Ideas for Us while attending college at the University of Central Florida, and over the last 13 years I have worked with an amazing team to expand a grassroots movement of collegiate and community chapters that engage youth leaders around the world, creating and expanding local sustainability solutions to more than 200 communities in 25 countries on five continents. Today, two of the most successful and impactful programs are still active across the IDEAS movement. The first is a think and do tank called the Ideas Hive , which brings public awareness to the U.N. SDGs by facilitating conversations about global challenges and developing local action projects that we can implement in our own community. In addition to monthly workshops (made virtual thanks to COVID), the Ideas Hive also coordinates public eco-tours, eco-film screenings and Umuganda Community Action days for public awareness, education and community engagement. The second successful program is an urban agricultural solution for communities that is redefining local food systems, specifically how we produce and distribute food in our communities.  Fleet Farming turns suburban lawns into a distributed network of micro-urban farms and uses a fleet of volunteer farmers to build, maintain and distribute the produce grown to local venues — all by bicycle. This effort has gotten the attention of more than 60 million people around the world, been on major media outlets such as NPR and NBC Nightly News , and is in the process of scaling to communities to address food insecurity and access. Ideas for Us has incorporated an exciting new program called the Solutions Fund, a micro-granting program providing funding to women and young change-makers to incubate proof-of-concept ideas that advance the SDGs around the world. With this focus on environmental philanthropy, we are becoming a conduit for foundations and corporations to make a direct difference in advancing sustainability, and an outlet for people of all ages around the world to make a difference in our local communities. As for my work in the city, I’m happy to say Orlando is shaping up to be one of the smartest and most sustainable cities in the country at the forefront of innovation and sustainability. Through the vision and leadership of Dyer and the Green Works Orlando initiative, we have implemented innovative policies and programs in a wide variety of focus areas, including energy and green buildings, local food systems, livability, water resources, transportation and smart cities — and have worked to provide our residents and businesses with the tools to live more environmentally friendly lifestyles. In 2018, Orlando became the first city in Florida to pass legislation that requires public disclosure of energy and water efficiency in buildings , and an ambitious goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy city-wide by 2050 . To strive towards the goal, the city added four new rooftop solar projects to critical facilities, including fire stations and neighborhood centers, and subscribed over 5 megawatts of community solar to offset all of our electricity use at Orlando City Hall, the Orlando police headquarters and all 17 fire stations. With clean energy financing options available for home and business owners, community solar farms and local solar cooperatives, we are working to make the transition to renewable energy as easy and cost-effective as possible. We’ve even been researching creative applications to achieve this goal, such as floating solar farms on stormwater ponds at the Orlando International Airport and other locations throughout the region. In December, our hometown utility, OUC, also published the Energy Integrated Resources Plan (EIRP) , which outlined a long-term plan for the electric utility that made bold commitments, including achieving net-zero by 2050 without offsets, with intermediate targets of 50 percent CO2 reduction by 2030 and 75 pecent by 2040; a commitment to early-retire the last two coal-fired power plants; and a significant ramp-up of energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicles over the next 30 years. This plan not only aligns with the Green Works goals, but it also supports science-based targets to address the climate crisis. Imagine if every utility in the country made this commitment. As for transportation, our city has bike-share and ride-share programs, one of the largest networks of electric vehicle chargers, real-time bus travel information, a commuter rail (SunRail) and a fare-free bus rapid transit system called the Lymmo to help lessen commuter pollution and congestion within the city. In October, we also unveiled the first fleet of electric buses in the Lymmo BRT, and a commitment to transition 100 percent of transit buses to electric and alternative fuels by 2030. If that wasn’t enough, in December, the city also published its first smart city master plan, Future-Ready Orlando , which works to combine some of my work in sustainability and resilience with technology to position Orlando to be a leading experimental prototype city of the 21st century. I believe in the ability for humans to live sustainably in harmony with the planet, and not just survive, but thrive. Whether it’s building climate resilience to the challenges we will face, taking direct action to mitigate and reverse our impacts or increasing public awareness and engagement about creating a more environmentally friendly future, I have made it my life’s mission to advance sustainability on a personal and professional level. Many say it’s become who I am, not what I do. No small act of improvement is wasted in this effort, so how much are you willing to contribute to building the future we want? Listen to Chris Castro on the EDF+Business podcast. Pull Quote Cities have extraordinary potential to enable change and to find harmony between people, prosperity and the planet. Topics Cities Renewable Energy Transportation & Mobility Resilience 30 Under 30 Collective Insight 30 Under 30 EDF 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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A Win for the Oceans: International Sustainability Agreement

February 18, 2021 by  
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“Fourteen heads of state call in to a remote meeting” … The post A Win for the Oceans: International Sustainability Agreement appeared first on Earth 911.

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A Win for the Oceans: International Sustainability Agreement

Paul Polman’s rallying cry for courageous leaders

February 15, 2021 by  
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Paul Polman’s rallying cry for courageous leaders Jean Haggerty Mon, 02/15/2021 – 02:15 In addition to having a devasting effect on lives and livelihoods, COVID-19 has been the biggest global disruptor in recent memory. It also has pushed us to a new moment of corporate leadership. “This is where the moral leaders [will] separate themselves from the greenwashers,” Paul Polman, global sustainability leader and former Unilever CEO, said in a GreenBiz 21 keynote conversation about what leadership means today. The scale and scope of the climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality challenges facing corporate leaders is extensive. “[We] need leaders who know that by investing in others, they will be better off themselves. But that takes courage,” said Polman, who in 2019 created Imagine, a foundation aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality and stemming runaway climate change. It is now much cheaper to design right and invest in that. In the coming years, the speed and skill with which progress is made on these issues will be critical. With that in mind, Imagine is trying to help corporate leaders be more courageous. It does this by bringing together 20-25 percent of the CEOs from the same sector to drive system changes, Polman said. For example, in the food sector, Imagine is working with 30 companies on a project that involves looking at regenerative agriculture, setting up a common data bank and creating a joint labeling system. “Because they are together, they become more courageous, and because [you] have critical mass, governments want to work with you. [Also], civil society comes in, and you [can] form partnerships that lead to breakthroughs,” he explained.  Spend back better Governments already have spent $12 trillion to $13 trillion just to stabilize global economies ravaged by COVID-19. Many of these same governments are devising ways to reconstruct global economies by spending back better, addressing climate change and inequality along the way. During the last economic crisis, an opportunity to green the economy was missed. Only 3-5 percent of the money that governments spent went toward greening the economy, and in the years that followed, climate change worsened and inequality grew. “We don’t want to repeat that. It led us to this current crisis … It is now much cheaper to design right and invest in that,” Polman said. “People are starting to realize that the cost of inaction is now significantly higher than the cost of action.” Uneven COVID-19 vaccine distribution between developed and developing countries is a case in point. In addition to directly affecting lives and livelihoods, a new report commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation found that if governments fail to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries, the global economy stands to lose about $8 trillion to $9 trillion. As much as half of this bill will fall to advanced economies, and economies and sectors with a high degree of international exposure will bear the brunt of these economic losses, the study said. Another shot The COVID-19 vaccine itself offers a lesson about the impressive speed with which humanity can deliver change. “We invented a vaccine within one year. We put communities together that rallied and filled in where others fell short,” Polman said. This, when combined with the coming of age of ESG investing, offers hope, but caution is essential. “Now there is a bit of euphoria, and we need to watch for it,” Polman said, underscoring that many issues are far from solved. Only about 10 percent of companies have climate commitments that are approaching seriousness, and nature loss needs to stop by 2030, he pointed out. To stay below a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase, continued development and progress on science-based targets is needed. The objectives for science-based targets for climate risk and for nature are closely related, but more granularity is needed and work still needs to be done, particularly on science-based targets for nature. Against this backdrop, Imagine, Conservation International and the Global Environment Fund are working with 65 fashion companies — representing about 30-35 percent of the fashion industry — to design a set of industry-specific science-based targets for nature. “I think that we will be able to do that very quickly for other industries too,” he added. The simple truth Ultimately, corporate leadership has to change because “less worse” is not an option anymore, Polman said. To be successful today, leaders need to be “systematic” thinkers. The work required to attack climate change and inequality is difficult, and these issues need to be solved at different levels and in ways that the current system was not set up to deliver. In light of this, today’s and tomorrow’s corporate leaders need to be purpose-driven, able to work in partnerships and equipped to think intergenerationally, Polman said. They also need to lead with a high degree of humanity and humility, he said.  A new crop of moral leaders who understand that the role of business goes beyond shareholder primacy is already emerging, he added. Now there is a bit of euphoria, and we need to watch for it. In the face of these transformational changes, corporate boards need to keep pace. They need to adapt, become more diverse and gain greater competency on climate risk issues, Polman said. Until recently, MBA programs were not producing the multi-disciplinary leaders needed to meet today’s challenges. Instead, programs were offering up “Milton Friedman on steroids,” he quipped. Last year was a wake-up call, but the real black swan revealed itself to be the lack of global cooperation. “And you can’t solve many of these global problems that we have [without global cooperation]. That is needed to redesign our economic system,” Polman said. Pull Quote It is now much cheaper to design right and invest in that. Now there is a bit of euphoria, and we need to watch for it. Topics Corporate Strategy Leadership GreenBiz 21 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Paul Polman at the 2014  One Young World  Conference in Dublin, Ireland. Photo: Stefan Schäfer, Lich

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Paul Polman’s rallying cry for courageous leaders

World’s smallest reptile discovered in Madagascar

February 5, 2021 by  
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Lizard lovers will swoon over a newly discovered species of tiny chameleon. Brookesia nana dwells in the Madagascar rainforest and may be the smallest — and cutest — reptile on Earth. Scientists announced its discovery in the journal Scientific Reports late last month. With a full-grown male measuring 21.6 millimeters from nose to tail tip, this wee chameleon can balance on the tip of a human thumb. Picture a living creature the size of a sunflower seed, and you’ll get an idea of just how small this reptile is. Related: Iguanas reintroduced to island after 200 years In 2012, researchers first saw the tiny chameleon in northern Madagascar’s Sorata massif, a damp, chilly area in the mountains . “At the first glance, we realized that it was an important discovery,” study coauthor Andolalao Rakotoarison, a herpetologist at University of Antananarivo in Madagascar , told National Geographic . Of course, it’s easier to spot, say, an elephant than a seed-sized reptile. That may be why scientists have only identified two members of the species so far. The female they found was about 7 millimeters longer than the male. The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology led the international team. While the discovery of the species is noted in the new report, the research was concentrated on a specific, personal matter. “A comparison with 51 other chameleon species showed that the new species has exceptionally large genitals,” the researchers concluded. Judging from the reptilian genital structures called hemipenes, scientists have determined that the smallest chameleons often have the largest genitals. In a comparison of racy reptiles, the new species came in fifth, with the genitals measuring 18.5% of the chameleon’s body size. Most impressive of all? Brookesia tuberculata , with hemipenes about a third of the male lizard’s length, excluding his tail. The researchers are already concerned that this species could be vulnerable or even endangered due to deforestation . The new chameleon isn’t the only petite critter in the East African country. “There are numerous extremely miniaturized vertebrates in Madagascar, including the smallest primates and some of the smallest frogs in the world, which have evolved independently,” Rakotoarison said. But why Brookesia nana evolved to seed-size is still a mystery. Its closest relative is twice as large and lives in the same mountains. + SNSB Via EcoWatch Image via Frank Glaw (SNSB/ZSM)

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World’s smallest reptile discovered in Madagascar

Shark populations have decreased by 71% in the last 50 years

January 29, 2021 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Nature has revealed that the number of sharks in the oceans has reduced by 71% since the 1970s. Ray populations are also plummeting. Because of these alarming findings, researchers are now calling on governments to take drastic measures to reverse the trend. The study authors blamed most of the losses on overfishing. Sharks and rays are often fished for food but are also victims of sportfishing in many parts of the world. More disheartening is the fact that these animals are already at risk of extinction , according to Nicholas Dulvy, professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Related: Preparing COVID-19 vaccine could kill half a million sharks “Overfishing of oceanic sharks and rays jeopardizes the health of entire ocean ecosystems as well as food security for some of the world’s poorest countries,” Dulvy said. In the study, 31 species of sharks and rays found in the open oceans were analyzed. Of these species, 24 are already classified as threatened by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Further, three shark species — the oceanic whitetip shark, the scalloped hammerhead shark and the great hammerhead shark — are currently listed as critically endangered . For these wildlife populations to recover, scientific data must be taken into account. According to Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, great white sharks are now recovering thanks to scientific data that influenced fishing limits. “Relatively simple safeguards can help to save sharks and rays, but time is running out,” Fordham said. “We urgently need conservation action across the globe to prevent myriad negative consequences and secure a brighter future for these extraordinary, irreplaceable animals.” + Nature Via BBC Image via Jonas Allert

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Shark populations have decreased by 71% in the last 50 years

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