Waste: an environmental justice issue we should be talking about

January 6, 2021 by  
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Waste: an environmental justice issue we should be talking about Deonna Anderson Wed, 01/06/2021 – 01:30 Remember when Flint, Michigan garnered international attention because water in the city was making people sick ? Well, there are communities like that around the country and the world. And while Flint gained attention because of its failing infrastructure, there are places where water and sewage infrastructure is absent. “Too many Americans live without any affordable means of cleanly disposing of the waste from their toilets, and must live with the resulting filth,” writes Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental health advocate, in her book “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret,” published by The New Press in November. (Read an excerpt here .) “They lack what most Americans take for granted: the right to flush and forget,” Flowers continues. For nearly two decades, Flowers, a recent awardee of the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant ,” has been bringing attention to failing water and waste sanitation infrastructure in rural areas. I spoke with Flowers in mid-December over Skype. Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity. Deonna Anderson: You are the woman mentioned in the title of your book, which chronicles your life and also your work as an environmental justice champion. For those who have not read the book, can you give an overview of what the “dirty secret” is in the title? Catherine Coleman Flowers: The dirty secret is that there are many Americans living with waste that comes from their toilets, whether it is through straight piping , in which [waste from] the toilets comes straight out on top of the ground or into a pit, or whether it is through a failing septic system, which means that when it fails, there’s sewage from their homes, usually from their toilets, of course. I just want to be graphic because that’s what it is.  And it ends up either out on top of the ground or comes back into the home, sometimes into their bathtubs. Or they’re part of these community systems that are supposed to be managed but were built in a way in which they were not sustainable. And consequently, people have sewage coming back into their homes or into their yards. Anderson: Throughout “Waste,” you write about the tours that you take people on to see all the waste and the lack of infrastructure in Lowndes County, Alabama. And that’s where you grew up. First, how many people have you taken on these tours over the years? Flowers: That’s a good question… In some cases, it would be one or two people and in other cases, there may be groups. So I would say on the small number, maybe close to 100 people, at least, that I’ve actually taken around to see this firsthand over the years, because I’ve been doing this since 2002. Catherine Coleman Flowers guides Senator Cory Booker through Lowndes County, Alabama, as part of his 2017 environmental justice tour.  Photo courtesy of Catherine Coleman Flowers.   Anderson: What has been the tangible impact of people going to see what happens in Lowndes County? Flowers: Well, first of all, this is not on a lot of people’s radar. When I wanted to talk about this before, I couldn’t get media interest. I was told that this was not sexy, nobody would be interested in it. But since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to speak before Congress, active members of Congress, the Senate, who’ve actually come to Lowndes County to see for themselves and have been working on policies to try to address this issue in rural communities. I had the opportunity to visit Geneva, because the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty came to Lowndes County and made it a major global issue. The first real coverage we get from it from a newspaper actually came from The Guardian . So now there are other people that are interested as well. And the fact that I can even write a book about it. … I’m thankful to The New Press for giving me an opportunity to tell this story. I’m excited that we have seen and have heard from people from around the country that are indeed interested in knowing about this, and also people that are interested in what the potential solutions are. Anderson: That’s actually a really good segue to my next question. Towards the end of the book, you talk about how solutions haven’t really come fast enough. And I’m curious if there’s anything that you hope happens in the next year or so, to address the sanitation issue in rural communities all over the country? Flowers: I think the first thing that should happen within the next year is to find out how many people are impacted, because we’re not going to have any real solutions until we really know how many people are impacted by this. Because I think for some people, a solution is to go to a place like Lowndes County, put in a few septic systems and say, “Problem solved.” The problem is not solved. And whatever systems are put in place have to be monitored — because of climate change, a lot of them simply are not working. And then we’re going to see what we’ve already seen: the failing septic systems, which exist around U.S. It’s not just in in Lowndes County. We could develop a vaccine for the coronavirus in less than a year. Just imagine what we could do if we put that same type of know-how and ingenuity behind coming up with some real wastewater solutions. The first thing is trying to quantify how many people are impacted by this and where they’re located. So when we talk about solutions, we’re talking about getting solutions to all the people that are impacted by it. Then the second thing that I’d like to see within the next year, is to actually to have the work on the type of innovation that’s needed to have long-term solutions to this problem, because obviously, it doesn’t exist. If it existed, everybody would have it, or they could go buy it and it’s not available. So we need to find something that’s sustainable, that takes into account climate change, and also is affordable so that we can that people could maintain it if they have to. What I envision is within the next five years coming up with a system that treats wastewater to drinking water quality that can be done on a household level. Because we’re going to have to talk about how we rebuild differently, and how we build differently. And as people have to move away from the coasts, and they move into these unincorporated areas, or they move into these areas where they don’t have big pipe systems, or have systems that are failing, we have to have something to be able to address that. And I think in terms of being forward thinking, we have to start working on that technology now. And I believe that it’s possible because we could develop a vaccine for the coronavirus in less than a year. Just imagine what we could do if we put that same type of know-how and ingenuity behind coming up with some real wastewater solutions that reuse and reclaim. Anderson: A few weeks ago, you were in conversation with Khaliah Ali Wertheimer . During your conversation, you mentioned how you would love for more rural communities to be included in conversations related to the Green New Deal. And I’m curious if you can share why it’s an important thing to include rural communities in these conversations? Flowers: I think oftentimes what we do — and it’s unintentional — is we frame our solutions or our conversations with an urban perspective that inadvertently is biased against rural communities. It leaves them out, when in fact, people in rural communities probably saw climate change before the people in the cities did, and may also have some type of knowledge about the solutions, and especially if we’re going to talk about agricultural solutions, solutions around soil. People in rural communities, especially [those] living in these agricultural communities that are very close to the soil, have some understanding that a lot of people don’t have because they have to pay attention to the natural elements in order to be successful in those environments. And I think, also, there are some common sense solutions that can come from rural communities. When we talk about green infrastructure, of course, we talk rightfully so about transportation systems that will move large amounts of people from one place to the other. And we talk about the grid and how the grid could connect cities. What I envision is within the next 5 years coming up with a system that treats wastewater to drinking water quality that can be done on a household level. But we need to connect those places in between as well, because even right now, a lot of people don’t have access to broadband and internet services. There are some parts of the country, especially in rural communities, where people’s cell phones might not work, because there aren’t cell towers nearby. So all of these kinds of things that we just assume that everybody has is not true. That’s why I believe that people from rural communities should be part of any discussion that we have about a Green New Deal and green infrastructure. They can also inform that conversation and how we get [resources] to those areas that have been left behind from what we currently have. We don’t need to keep skipping over these communities. Anderson: I’m curious if there has been any legislation over the years that has really helped improve the lives of rural communities that you can think of. And can you paint the picture of what the ideal would be when it comes to making sure that rural communities are thought about in conversations about climate change? Flowers: I haven’t really done a deep dive search but with the legislation that I have seen, I haven’t seen what I think is the model yet. I think in order to have a model, it would involve going into these communities and having people that are experiencing these problems sitting at the table and helping to draft the legislation because oftentimes, people are well intentioned and want to do it, and I applaud them for that, but you can’t do that by just visiting for a day and thinking you have the answer.  It’s unintentional — we frame our solutions or we frame our conversations with an urban perspective that inadvertently is biased against rural communities. Using the principles of environmental justice, that means having the people in the community sitting at the table — not having a top-down approach. The top-down approaches, as we know, have failed. That’s why we have this problem. That’s why we’re having this discussion. The model includes using the principles of environmental justice — and letting the people in the community be part of designing the policy to address these issues — because sometimes even the language in the policies get in the way — for example, language such as “town,” when a lot of these areas are unincorporated. There are no towns. Or putting in a limit or a minimum of 500 or more people. What does that do? Exclude the smaller towns or the smaller communities who may not be part of the town. And I think that’s one of the reasons that we have the problem that we have.  It’s something that I call a rural lexicon and what the rural lexicon is is understanding the language of rural communities, so that when we write policy, it is not always written from an urban perspective. I’m not saying that urban communities should not have access to services. They should, but we should all have access to services, whether rural or urban. Anderson: When I was listening to you talk, it reminded me that when solutions to issues are dreamed up and implemented, the people doing the work need to be deeply embedded with the communities in which they’re working in order to really understand and make sure that everyone is included. With that in mind and because the GreenBiz audience is mostly corporate sustainability people, I’m curious about how companies can help rural communities and support organizations like yours. Flowers: Companies come with expertise that we don’t have and they can also help expand our capacity — and they can contribute to organizations like ours, so that we can do the work. Some of them can serve as board members; some can serve as advisers. They can host seminars to educate their staff about these issues. Some of them could also visit as well, when it’s feasible to visit again. And certainly there are services that they offer that people in rural communities want as well.  In some cases, some of these smaller areas cannot have sustainability offices. Wouldn’t it be great if some of these companies will partner with communities that don’t have that? They can actually go in and help them develop more sustainable practices in those communities. There are lots of things that can be done and I’m sure if you talk to somebody else from a rural community, that they would have other ideas. I used to teach social studies so I remember teaching state and local government and history, and we know that there are three branches of government. We know that there are some other unofficial branches of government like the media, but I think the business community plays a key role as well. And the business community can be very helpful in states and pushing for the state governments to not leave out rural communities and to make sure that there’s infrastructure in place for these rural communities. Companies come with expertise that we don’t have and they can also help expand our capacity — and they can contribute to organizations like ours, so that we can do the work. When I was an economic development coordinator, I couldn’t recruit a lot of businesses to Lowndes County because they require certain things that we did not have in terms of just basic infrastructure. By pushing for those things to happen, and pushing for states to provide the infrastructure, not just in the places that already have it but also in places that need it, that can go a long way. Anderson: Now that your book is out in the world, what is the life you hope the book has? What do you hope the people who read the book take away from it and put to action? Flowers: The first thing I want them to do is to read the book. And then the second thing I want them to do is not just look at Lowndes County. Look in their own communities, look in their own states. Throughout the United States, there’s this problem — United States and U.S. territories. So look at those areas and help us to identify where those areas are and what those problems are so together we can come up with a solution.  That’s what I’m asking people to do because a lot of people want to come to Lowndes County. You’re passing by situations in your own state and that’s not helpful. What we need to do is make sure that everybody gets help, and that people are not left behind. I ultimately hope that what will come of this book, or at least writing and telling the story, is that we’ll be able to look back and say this was the impetus to end this problem in the United States of America, and potentially globally. Pull Quote We could develop a vaccine for the coronavirus in less than a year. Just imagine what we could do if we put that same type of know-how and ingenuity behind coming up with some real wastewater solutions. What I envision is within the next 5 years coming up with a system that treats wastewater to drinking water quality that can be done on a household level. It’s unintentional — we frame our solutions or we frame our conversations with an urban perspective that inadvertently is biased against rural communities. Companies come with expertise that we don’t have and they can also help expand our capacity — and they can contribute to organizations like ours, so that we can do the work. What we need to do is make sure that everybody gets help, and that people are not left behind. Topics Social Justice Environmental Justice Waste Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Catherine Coleman Flowers, author of “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret,” speaks at a Fire Drill Friday protest in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Catherine Coleman Flowers.

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Waste: an environmental justice issue we should be talking about

Bill McKibben: ‘Pace is the most important variable right now in fighting climate change’

November 10, 2020 by  
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Bill McKibben: ‘Pace is the most important variable right now in fighting climate change’ Climate change is a complex, interconnected and existential crisis. How we talk about it — the stories we tell, the facts we share, and the language we use — can make the difference between action and paralysis, hope and despair. In this conversation, Bill McKibben, author, activist and storyteller who has helped shape the climate movement, will illuminate the importance of getting the climate story right, and the danger of confusing effective narratives with effective action.  This session was held at GreenBiz Group’s VERGE 20, October 26-30, 2020. Learn more about the event here: https://events.greenbiz.com/events/ve…   Watch our other must-see talks here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwW3…   OUR LINKS Website: https://www.greenbiz.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/greenbiz LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gree… Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/greenbiz_group Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GreenBiz YanniGuo Mon, 11/09/2020 – 17:29 Featured Off

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Bill McKibben: ‘Pace is the most important variable right now in fighting climate change’

Bill McKibben reflects on brand advocacy, the final frontier of climate leadership

November 3, 2020 by  
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Bill McKibben reflects on brand advocacy, the final frontier of climate leadership Mike Hower Tue, 11/03/2020 – 01:30 Four years ago today, many corporate sustainability professionals — regardless of political leanings — stood shocked as they watched Donald Trump clinch the presidency in one of the biggest upsets in American presidential history. Many of us feared for the future of climate action, and pretty much every other social and environmental issue. We were right to worry — things are, to be blunt, looking pretty terrible from a federal climate policy perspective. The Trump administration has abandoned all semblance of U.S. leadership on the climate crisis during the very years when we needed to be taking the most decisive actions to curb emissions. It axed the Clean Power Plan, gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, weakened the role of scientific evidence in environmental policy and withdrew the United States from the historic Paris Agreement — a decision that takes effect Nov. 4 — among an endless list of other anti-climate actions. Meanwhile, the climate crisis has continued to devastate communities across the country with record-shattering extreme weather events — from hurricanes and floods to droughts and wildfires. With the latest science telling us that we have until 2030 to take the necessary actions to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we can’t afford four more years of what we’ve seen — or, rather, haven’t seen — over the past four years. I think probably corporations would be wise to be very humble in their storytelling. “If we don’t get much of the work done by 2030, we probably aren’t going to get a chance to do much afterward because it’ll be too late,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org , last week during a VERGE 20 keynote. While McKibben praised the proliferation of voluntary individual and corporate actions to address the climate crisis, he emphasized that this wouldn’t be enough. “It’s very good that corporations are moving to electrify their delivery fleets, but I will tell you … the fleets I care about most are the fleets of lobbyists being deployed on Capitol Hill,” McKibben said. “It’s time to make sure those guys aren’t spending all their time trying to get the next tax break and to make sure they are falling in line behind the things we need to do to have a liveable planet.” While it’s true corporate sustainability continued to advance climate action even during the Trump administration — and likely will continue to do so regardless of who sits in the White House over the next four years — the climate crisis won’t be solved by a hodgepodge of voluntary actions. It will require sweeping policy change, and businesses can and must play a central role in making this happen. “I do think that it’s most impressive when you get people cooperating across industries to tell a story together,” McKibben said. “But I also think that companies can really start … if they really have a genuine story to tell, as part of the story of their own progress towards understanding what justice and solidarity are coming to mean. We’ve got to move out of a world where we see it simply as a zero-sum game where companies fight with each other to be the biggest or the best or grow the fastest, or whatever. People have to understand that at this point in Earth’s history and human history, this requires something much deeper, more profound. I think probably corporations would be wise to be very humble in their storytelling.” Change the narrative, change the game One of the most powerful ways businesses can help advance climate policy is by helping to counter the false narrative that climate action and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive. Years of misinformation campaigns bankrolled by Big Oil first worked to sow doubt over whether the climate crisis was even real. While the United States still has a significant number of people who downplay or deny the climate crisis, six in 10 Americans view it as a major threat — up from 44 percent from 2009, according to Pew . This change in opinion is likely in large part because the impacts of the climate crisis — such as extreme weather, floods and wildfires — have been too gargantuan to ignore more than a sudden increased love for science. Meanwhile, those who oppose climate action have shifted their strategies. The narrative has changed from denying the climate crisis outright to acknowledging its existence while claiming that taking action to address it would hurt the economy. “The big issue on climate is getting influential companies to influence policymakers and counteract the negative influence of those who are trying to preserve the status quo,” said Bill Weihl, executive director at ClimateVoice , recently during a thinkPARALLAX Perspectives virtual panel event, ” Brand Advocacy: The final frontier of climate leadership ,” which I moderated. There’s plenty of negative influence to be countered — since the Paris Agreement was signed, companies such as Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and others have spent over $1 billion in direct lobbying against climate policy in the United States. “The big challenge big companies face as they think about brand advocacy is political risk,” Weihl said. Many companies fear that if they speak up on an issue such as the climate crisis, they might draw unwanted regulatory attention to another aspect of their business, which could hurt their bottom line, he added. Moving forward, companies must find the courage to overcome this fear because they are uniquely positioned to help change the national conversation on the climate crisis. Today, Americans are more likely to trust companies than the federal government, a factor largely influenced by the corporate response to the pandemic, according to an Axios-Harris poll . Values-driven policy action Many companies abstain from brand advocacy out of fear of alienating employees or customers by being “too political,” said Will Lopez, vice president of Customer Success at Phone2Action , a digital advocacy company, during the thinkPARALLAX virtual panel. But brand advocacy done correctly is a natural outgrowth of a company’s values that inspire employees or customers to act. “When we work with organizations that talk about brand advocacy, we’re looking at organizations that are mobilizing their customers or internal employees on policy issues that are relevant to their values and policy initiatives,” he said. “Your customers already value your product and values.” Martin Wolf, director of sustainability and authenticity at Seventh Generation , concurred. “Companies should advocate for issues and policies that align with their mission and values,” he said. This shouldn’t be done to sell more product, Wolf said, but to put in front of the public who you are so that consumers can join you in advocating for some endpoint. “Make sure that what you do advocate for is aligned with positions you’re taking outside of the consumer space because if there’s a lack of alignment, you are going to be subjecting yourself to criticism.” During the thinkPARALLAX panel, Michael Millstein, global policy and advocacy manager at Levi Strauss & Co . said that, before advocating on an issue, the company puts the policy up to a test of whether it is consistent with its core values and if the benefits of weighing in on this outweigh costs and risks. “Climate policy clearly passes this test,” he said. Uniting sustainability and government relations In many large corporations, corporate sustainability and government relations operate in separate siloes. This lack of unity leads to, at best, disjointed and, at worst, contradictory policy actions. As I wrote in GreenBiz earlier this year, one of the best ways to ensure alignment in corporate sustainability and government relations teams is by making sustainability central to business strategy. One way Levi’s does this, Millstein said, is by holding both its policy and corporate sustainability teams responsible for addressing sustainability goals. While materiality assessments, for example, typically are the domain of corporate sustainability teams, at Levi’s the policy advocacy team also has a mandate to address material issues. “This helps us all be on the same team,” he said. Business schools and sustainability people are taught to speak the language of finance and the CFO, but the CFO and other people aren’t taught how to speak the language of morality, humanity and ethics. If a company effectively makes sustainability core to business strategy, there naturally won’t be a conflict between departments, said Darcy Shiber-Knowles, director of operational sustainability and innovation at Dr. Bronner’s , during the thinkPARALLAX panel. If capitalism is a force for good, then the term “corporate sustainability” shouldn’t even exist, she said. “Corporations ought to be sustainable and inherently socially responsible,” Shiber-Knowles said. “So to have one department that is not in alignment with another department focused on long-term sustainability doesn’t make good business sense.” Yet many companies operate far from this ideal — the financial bottom line trumps the sustainability team’s agenda every time. “Business schools and sustainability people are taught to speak the language of finance and the CFO, but the CFO and other people aren’t taught how to speak the language of morality, humanity and ethics,” Weihl said. The next four years While uncertainty shrouds the future political environment around the climate crisis, one thing companies can bank on is growing expectations from all stakeholders to better engage on climate policy, among other issues. Just as silence is complicity in the ongoing movement for racial equality, the same could be said of the climate crisis. “The No. 1 thing that will come out of the election, regardless of who wins, is that the appetite will still be there from consumers and organizations to do something about climate change,” Lopez said. Millstein agreed. “The outcome will influence what’s on the table, but there will be opportunities regardless,” he said. Remember to get out there and vote — and don’t stop there. We are the last generation that can do something about the climate crisis before it’s too late. Another four years of a Trump administration certainly would be a setback for the planet and everyone living on it, but it doesn’t mean game over — any more than a Biden victory means we can sit back and relax. Democracy is difficult and demands our constant civic engagement in order to realize desired outcomes. We owe it to ourselves and everyone who comes after to fight for policy change that addresses the climate crisis and secures a better future for all. Pull Quote I think probably corporations would be wise to be very humble in their storytelling. Business schools and sustainability people are taught to speak the language of finance and the CFO, but the CFO and other people aren’t taught how to speak the language of morality, humanity and ethics. Topics Policy & Politics Marketing & Communication Corporate Strategy VERGE 20 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Nancie Battaglia Close Authorship

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Bill McKibben reflects on brand advocacy, the final frontier of climate leadership

Why sustainability professionals should embrace Black Lives Matter

September 21, 2020 by  
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Why sustainability professionals should embrace Black Lives Matter Charles Orgbon Mon, 09/21/2020 – 00:45 Long before corporations acknowledged Black Lives Matter, they championed the plights of specific endangered species. Corporate conservation campaigns used phrases such as “Save the [insert your favorite animal],” which have been catchy, effective and oddly similar to the language we’re now using to educate people about the status of Black life in America. The Disney Conservation Fund protects lions, elephants, chimpanzees and thousands of other species. Ben & Jerry’s brings awareness to declining honeybee populations. Coca-Cola appropriately is the longtime ally of the poster child for climate change, the polar bear. As a kid, I, too, was influenced by Coca-Cola’s messaging. At just 11, I thought I could stop global warming, so I created a blog with articles urging people, “Save the polar bears.” No one challenged me by asking, “What about the tigers? The tigers…matter, too! All endangered species matter.” The fact is, polar bears were (and still are) drowning due to global problems. If we addressed the root causes of those global problems such as reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, in fact, all endangered species would fare better. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” works similarly to “Save the polar bear,” only that Black people are drowning in a sea of systemic racism instead of a rising sea of melting ice. Want to know how well our society is tackling racial injustice? Look to Black people. If we’re doing good, we’re all doing good. When someone says something such as “Save the polar bears,” they are also indirectly revealing other information about themselves. Perhaps they eat organic, use public transportation, recycle or take military-style showers. Likewise, when we say “Black Lives Matter” we are actually making a declaration about our belief that injustice somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere. All lives truly matter when those that are the most marginalized matter. Want to know how well our society is tackling climate change? Look to polar bears. If they’re doing good, we’re doing good. Want to know how well our society is tackling racial injustice? Look to Black people. If we’re doing good, we’re all doing good. I spend a lot of time thinking about how white people are just awakening to the systemic racism that continues to thrive in every aspect of American life and how this systemic racism continues to affect me daily . If so many people have gone so long without acknowledging the reality that people of color experience every day, it’s not surprising that these issues have gone on for so long. Watershed moment Sometimes a watershed moment is needed to bring attention to a crisis. After all, no one cared about polar bears until Mt. Pinatubo’s 1991 volcanic eruption, which greatly influenced our scientific understanding of anthropogenic global warming and its impacts on arctic life. The catastrophic event was one of the most significant watershed moments for climate activism. Now, the Black Lives Matter movement is amid a watershed moment. White people are awakening from their own hibernation and acknowledging that, yes, as the statistics suggest, racism still exists. For example, Black people and white people breathe different air. Black people are exposed to about 1.5 times more particulate matter than white people. Give more than just a cursory glance to Marvin Gaye’s ” Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) ” and you’ll discover its truisms: “Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.” Researchers have found that toxic chemical exposure is linked to race : minority populations have higher levels of benzene and other dangerous aromatic chemical exposure. Lead poisoning also disproportionately affects people of color in the U.S., especially Black people. A careful examination of our nation’s statistics reveals myriad racial disparities. The polarity of experiences is startling. This influenced many well-intentioned white people to examine numerous situations and ask, “Is racial bias truly at play here?” I challenge that that’s not the question we must ask when we live in a world with such disparate statistics for communities of color. It’s much more powerful to ask, ” How is racial bias at play here?” Those who fail to confront how racial bias is often at play attempt to live in a colorblind world that does not exist. When tipping service workers, when selecting your next dentist, when making employment decisions, when raising children, seriously consider that the world is not colorblind. And to create a more equitable world, we have to fight more aggressively to counteract the evil that already exists. This is what it means to be anti-racist, or as the National Museum of African American History and Culture counsels, “Make frequent, consistent and equitable choices to be conscious about race and racism and take actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives.” So, what can allies do? Step 1: Take out a sticky note. Step 2: Write out the words ANTI-RACIST. Step 3: Put it on your laptop monitor and do the work. It’s a daily practice to filter your thoughts, communication and decisions through an anti-racist lens. Pull Quote Want to know how well our society is tackling racial injustice? Look to Black people. If we’re doing good, we’re all doing good. Topics Social Justice Equity & Inclusion Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Why sustainability professionals should embrace Black Lives Matter

ESG investments: Exponential potential or surfing one wave?

September 21, 2020 by  
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ESG investments: Exponential potential or surfing one wave? Terry F. Yosie Mon, 09/21/2020 – 00:30 Amidst four concurrent crises — health, economic, race relations and climate — one stand-out 2020 development has been the rebound of major stock markets and, particularly, the growing performance and prominence of environment, social and governance (ESG) traded funds. ESG portfolios not only have outperformed traditional financial assets this year, but also a data analysis prepared by Morningstar, a financial advisory research firm, concluded that almost 60 percent of sustainable investments delivered higher returns than comparable funds over the past decade. Morningstar also found that ESG funds have greater longevity than non-ESG portfolios. About 77 percent of ESG funds that existed 10 years ago are presently available, whereas only 46 percent of traditional investment vehicles maintain that survivorship. These developments raise two overriding questions: what factors have converged to catapult ESG portfolios into the front rows of investment strategy, and what challenges can transform (for better or worse) ESG fund performance in the future? ESG investing has made important strides in the past decade and possesses significant momentum to expand its reach into the broader economy. ESG’s arrival at the Big Dance Since the rebound from the 2007-08 financial crisis, it would have taken a singularly motivated unwise investor to lose money in U.S. equity markets. ESG investors were not unwise. Several sets of factors converged to make these funds an even better bet than the S&P 500, Dow Jones or NASDAQ exchanges that covered a broad array of individual equities, mutual funds or indexed portfolios. These factors include: Less risk and volatility. ESG asset managers and their customers generally prefer a longer-term planning horizon than many of their traditional competitors whose reliance upon program trading or other methods result in more frequent turnover in holdings. In retrospect, it also turned out that ESG portfolios contained less financial risk because they had more accurately identified risks from climate change and considered other variables — such as resilience — for which no accepted risk methodology exists. The response to the international COVID-19 pandemic has become a de facto surrogate to measure corporate resilience and has previewed the economic and societal chaos that is increasingly expected to arrive from accelerating climate change. For investors, ESG portfolios have provided a welcome shelter in the storm and a more profitable one at that.   A declining investment rationale for fossil fuels. What was once a trend is now a rout. ESG asset managers, closely attuned to climate-related risks, recognized the receding value of first coal, and now, petroleum investments that are in the midst of an historic decline. Prior to the 2007-08 financial crash, ExxonMobil enjoyed a market capitalization in excess of $500 billion. By 2016 (and accounting for the rebound from that crash), it stood at about $400 billion. Today, it is $159 billion even as overall equity valuations reach historic highs. Asset write-offs from the oil sector continue to mount and include BP’s write-down of $17.5 billion and Total’s cancellation of $9.3 billion in Canadian oil sands assets. By virtually any established financial metric — net income, capital expenditures, earnings per share — petroleum companies are shrinking. As an industry group, energy is one of the smallest sectors in the S&P 500.   Convergence of transparency and governance. While there are frequent complaints about the lack of robust financial metrics to evaluate ESG investment opportunities, the fact is one of growing convergence around some critical reporting measures. For climate change, these include the information obtained from companies adhering to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) that provide for voluntary and more consistent financial risk reporting. CDP is widely respected among asset managers, and there is growing interest in the efforts of the Global Reporting Initiative-Sustainability Accounting Standards Board to arrive at a simpler, sector-specific, financially relevant set of performance metrics. Governance expectations also have accelerated as more financial firms seek not only fuller disclosure but understanding of actual plans to achieve an impact through, as one example, Scopes 1, 2 and 3 reductions within specific time frames.   Collaboration among financial asset management firms. No longer is it necessary for nuns organized through the Sisters of St. Francis or the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility to maintain their lonely vigil to persuade management of their social and environmental concerns. In recent years, their cause has been transformed by the world’s largest asset management firms that have the added advantage of being very large investors in the companies whose practices they wish to change. These organizations — including BlackRock, BNP Paribas Asset Management, CalPERS and UBS Asset Management — generally have no difficulty in meeting with CEOs or, more recently, obtaining increasingly large support for the shareholder resolutions they support. Most significant, in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, these firms increasingly collaborate through organizations such as Climate Action 100+, known as CA100+ (which presently has more than 450 investor members with over $40 trillion in assets), Ceres and the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change. Their climate change action agenda includes setting an emissions reduction target, disclosing climate-related financial risks through the TCFD reporting framework and ensuring that corporate boards are appropriately constituted to focus upon and deliver climate results. In reflecting on this evolution, long-time sustainability investor John Streur of Calvert Research & Management wrote, “We need to spend more of our engagement time pressing for change, as opposed to asking for disclosure.” Disrupting and being disrupted — the road ahead The ESG investment movement has every reason to be optimistic in the short term. There is growing investor and stakeholder momentum for the goals of expanded disclosure, improved corporate governance and measurable plans and impacts, especially for climate change. There is significant expansion in the staff sizes and expertise that better enable firms with ESG portfolios to evaluate financial risks. And their financial performance continues to impress. What could go wrong, come up short or require adaptation? Several factors bear a closer scrutiny. ESG’s value proposition is principally based on de-risking assets. This is too limited a value proposition to meet future needs . For example, ESG data does not reveal much insight for identifying research and development priorities, product innovation opportunities or effective branding and marketing strategies. As Brown University professor Cary Krosinsky has commented, “ESG data doesn’t tell you the most important thing: who will win the race” in future business competition and success for the long-term. In short, is ESG investment too disconnected from the very purpose of an enterprise — to innovate new products, gain customers and make money over time through business development?   As ESG investment goes mainstream, it will face new challenges and risks. A current advantage that ESG managers possess is that their decisions focus more on pure-play outcomes such as de-risking companies from climate change or other sustainability challenges. As more traditional investment firms acquire or expand ESG capabilities, more complexity will enter into investment decisions to reconcile clients’ needs or manage the trade-offs between ESG performance measures and those applied through shareholder value driven outcomes (earnings per share, quarterly financial reporting). Aligning expectations concerning executive compensation, independence of directors and future investment opportunities are major unresolved issues between ESG and traditional investment practitioners.   To be more impactful, the composition of ESG portfolios will need to change. Currently, ESG funds are dominated by equities, but significant capital is invested in other sectors such as bonds, exchange traded funds (ETFs) and real estate. The methodology for evaluating these asset classes will need to be modified from that applied to the assessment of equities. At the same time, ESG funds are heavily weighted in ownership of technology stocks, particularly the so-called FAANG companies — Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google — in addition to Microsoft. A number of these firms have inadequate data security and privacy protections, weak corporate governance and poor business ethics. The long-term wisdom of piling so many investment eggs into a single sector basket, combined with the multiple ESG problems of current technology portfolios, challenges ESG asset firms to become more transparent about their own evaluation criteria and decision making about portfolio diversity.   ESG assessments should assign a higher priority to social issues. The “S” in ESG is the least understood of the three factors, and it will be the most challenging to apply. As diversity, inclusion and equity become a greater focus of corporate sustainability policies and programs, the methodology for their evaluation is the least advanced. In part, this reflects the cultural and racial filter of a largely white and wealthy investor class lagging in its comprehension that race and social justice are material investment criteria. Simultaneously, data on social indicators will be more difficult to collect. Large numbers of companies are reluctant to disclose such information because it will expose gender and racial gaps in pay and promotion and general under-representation of minorities. Again, the technology sector is a major laggard on such issues. More broadly, the collection of social data, especially for racial diversity, is made more difficult as a matter of policy by many governments outside the United States, including in Europe where it is illegal in some countries to collect ethic and racial information. Some ESG investors are beginning to expand their dialogue around these issues, but they are much further behind when compared to their assessments and investment policies on environmental and governance issues. ESG investing has made important strides in the past decade and possesses significant momentum to expand its reach into the broader economy. Karina Funk, portfolio manager and chair of Sustainable investing at Brown Advisory, sees an approaching convergence between ESG and traditional investment philosophies. “ESG is a value-add,” she noted in a recent conversation. “It provides an expanding array of tools — financial screening, data analysis, issue-specific consultations with companies, proxy voting and an emerging focus on social risks — so that, in five years, ESG will be a standard expectation in asset evaluations. The key will be to focus on all risks facing a company, quantifiable or not, the exposure of business models and identifying what factors are within a company’s control.” Will management listen to ESG investors? Voices as varied as the U.S. Department of Labor and Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw are urging company executives and fund managers to tip the scales against what they consider to be economically risky and materially irrelevant ESG factors. In re-asserting the primacy of shareholder value, they remind us that voice of Milton Friedman still echoes from the crypt even as it grows fainter within the rapid humming of today’s marketplace and changing society. Pull Quote ESG investing has made important strides in the past decade and possesses significant momentum to expand its reach into the broader economy. Topics Finance & Investing ESG GreenFin Featured Column Values Proposition Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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ESG investments: Exponential potential or surfing one wave?

Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

April 20, 2018 by  
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Bottlenose dolphins typically reside in tropical or warm-temperate waters around the world — but researchers recently glimpsed a group of around 200 of the dolphins and around 70 false killer whales off northern Vancouver Island’s west coast in Canada. They said this sighting is “the only occurrence of common bottlenose dolphins recorded in Canadian Pacific waters” — and a warming trend could be to blame. In July 2017, Halpin Wildlife Research , working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Department of Environment and Climate Change , documented the dolphins and whales. In research published this month in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records , the three researchers involved said the sighting “is the most northerly record” for common bottlenose dolphins “in the eastern North Pacific .” Related: A beluga whale living with dolphins learned to “speak their language” Lead author Luke Halpin said in a statement , “The sighting is also the first offshore report of false killer whales in British Columbia. To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare. It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” Warming in eastern North Pacific waters between 2013 and 2016 could be the reason for the presence of the dolphins and whales. Halpin said he’s documented warm-water species in British Columbia waters since 2014, including a loggerhead turtle and a swordfish . He said, “With marine waters increasingly warming up, we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.” + BioMed Central + Marine Biodiversity Records Images via Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith on Flickr and the National Park Service

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

Scientists record a human-like conversation between two dolphins for the first time ever

September 12, 2016 by  
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Yasha and Yana, two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins , have been chatting it up lately and scientists have been listening in. The recordings can clearly be heard to be conversations , as the mammals pause to let the other finish and can string distinct “words” together to form sentences. The research confirms for the first time that dolphins use an advanced form of communication similar to humans. The study , published in the journal Mathematics and Physics , was performed at the Karadag Nature Reserve in Feodosia, Russia. The two dolphins were recorded speaking to each other in a pool at the reserve and the analysis of their conversation was fascinating. Dr. Vyacheslav Ryabov, lead researcher of the study, stated: “Essentially, this exchange resembles a conversation between two people.” Related: Why the Feds want to ban swimming with dolphins in Hawaii A series of pulsed clicks were produced by each mammal , each distinct and representing a phoneme or word in the dolphin language. These pulses were strung together like sentences and it was clear both Yasha and Yana waited for the other to finish before responding. “This language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins, and their language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language , akin to the human language,” explained Dr. Ryabov. Dolphins are already known to produce more than one thousand types of distinct whistles to communicate with one another, but the new evidence points to particularly advanced behavior in the form of a one-on-one, back and forth conversation. At this point in time, we still do not understand the content of their communication, but the researchers say this is clearly the next step to take. Via The Telegraph Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Scientists record a human-like conversation between two dolphins for the first time ever

North Korea requests international aid after typhoon kills 133 and displaces thousands

September 12, 2016 by  
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North Korea’s official state media reported Sunday that heavy rains from Typhoon Lionrock caused severe flooding in the northeast region of the country , killing at least 133 people and leaving hundreds more missing. Reportedly, some 140,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and the effects of the disaster may continue to spread. For the first time in ages, the secretive nation has issued a plea for help from those outside its carefully protected borders. In a broadcast on Sunday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the country’s “heaviest downpour” since 1945 after Typhoon Lionrock triggered flooding in Musan and Yonsa counties and Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong province. The massive storm surge reportedly left “tens of thousands” of buildings destroyed and people homeless and “suffering from great hardship,” according to KCNA. The gravity of the disaster has been confirmed in a report by the United Nations. Related: Typhoon Lionrock drenches Japan, leaving at least 10 dead Bradley Williams, a international relations professor at City University in Hong Kong, told CNN the areas hit hardest by the flooding are known to be impoverished, and are the locale of prison camps and forces hostile to the regime there. KCNA’s report claimed Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) issued a public appeal to party members and service personnel of the Korean People’s Army to aid in the recovery efforts. Williams suspects that the call for flood relief assistance may not actually benefit those suffering the storm’s effects, but will instead be channeled into efforts to protect the regime and prevent social uprising. Red Cross rescue teams are responding to North Korea’s plea, but it remains to be seen whether the international community will respond. Via CNN Lead image via  Nasa Goddard Rapid Response Team , images via DPRK HCT Joint Assessment Team ,  United Nations  

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North Korea requests international aid after typhoon kills 133 and displaces thousands

Vincent Callebauts Botanic Center fights urban smog and harvests clean energy

September 12, 2016 by  
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Despite its garden-inspired name, the Botanic Center in Brussels was built in 1977 from 274 identical concrete modules with nary a plant in sight. Architect Vincent Callebaut’s envisioned renovation , which he calls “metamorphosis,” transforms the building into a new symbol of sustainability for the city. “Our ambitions are as follows: to imagine a vegetal envelope on the three façades of the Botanic Center; to bring biodiversity back into the heart of the City; and with the help of botanists, to select plants that will color the building according to seasons,” writes Callebaut. The design calls for 274 planter beds with overhanging and climbing plants installed onto the 274 existing concrete models. Drip irrigation would be used to water the beds and maintenance need only be performed twice a year. Callebaut estimates that the 10,000-plant facade and green roofs could capture close to 50 tons of carbon dioxide a year and improve building insulation. Related: Futuristic oceanscapers are floating villages 3D-printed from algae and plastic waste In keeping with his theme of metamorphosis, Callebaut topped the proposed Botanic Center renovation with a “Chrysalis,” a lightweight structure made of arched glulam and steel cables. The curved addition can play host to a variety of programming and overlooks city views through large glazed openings. Twelve “gills” on the roof extend southwards to help improve solar exposure for the 600-square-meter photovoltaic array on the roof. Over 40 vertical axis wind turbines are also located atop the Chrysalis and could generate 32,340 kWh per year. Callebaut estimates that the total annual output of renewable energies could reach 128,340 kWh per year, enough to cover part of the existing building’s needs or ensure self-sufficiency for the Chrysalis’ new spaces. + Vincent Callebaut Images via Vincent Callebaut

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Vincent Callebauts Botanic Center fights urban smog and harvests clean energy

Airstream’s new Basecamp is a tiny house you can tow practically anywhere

September 12, 2016 by  
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Developed over the course of nearly a decade in collaboration with automotive designer Bryan Thompson, Basecamp was created for both the weekend warrior and the experienced long haul traveler. Like the original Airstream, the compact travel trailer is built with a sleek aerodynamic exterior rugged enough to withstand the elements and diverse terrain. “With its lighter weight and easier towing experience, Basecamp is a fully-loaded adventure waiting to happen,” said Airstream CEO and President, Bob Wheeler. “All you need to do is head out and decide whether to go right or left at the end of your driveway.” Related: Iconic Airstream gets a magnificent revamp to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial In spite of its small size, the Basecamp can accommodate a variety of functions. The convertible rear space can be adapted for eating, sleeping, lounging, or storage. The kitchen includes a cooktop, stainless steel sink, and fridge. A bathroom is also onboard with a toilet and shower. A large window wraps around the rear side for panoramic views of the landscape. A wireless Bluetooth speaker is also integrated into the design. The base model weighs 2,585 pounds and has an MSRP of $34,900. Optional additions include an enclosed patio and rear tent that seamlessly attach to the Basecamp roof track. + Airstream Images via Airstream

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Airstream’s new Basecamp is a tiny house you can tow practically anywhere

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