COVID-19 lockdowns lead to decreasing light pollution

April 7, 2021 by  
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Earth’s skies have grown increasingly brighter over the years, as humans accelerate their love of electricity . Then came 2020, the year of lockdowns. One welcome side effect has been reduced light pollution. A recent U.K. star count organized by a charity called CPRE found that light pollution continues to drop, with a 10% reduction since last year. Between February 6 and 14, 2021, CPRE collected nearly 8,000 star counts. If a person could only see 10 or fewer stars , that was considered severe light pollution. The group concluded that U.K. skies are the darkest they’ve been since 2013. Related: New study reveals main sources of light pollution “Looking up at a starry night sky is a magical sight and one that we believe everyone should be able to experience, wherever they live,” said Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE. “And the great thing is, light pollution is one of the easiest kinds of pollution to reverse.” Bright lights at night are more than just an annoyance. Many animals suffer when they get confused between day and night. “The introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to their environment,” research scientist Christopher Kyba said of nocturnal animals. Cities are hundreds, if not thousands, of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. This messes up the cover that prey species rely upon, disrupts the nighttime croaking of frogs trying to attract a mate, confuses baby sea turtles who follow artificial lights away from the ocean and lures migratory birds off course. So how do we reverse light pollution? The easiest way is to turn lights off when they’re not needed. Instead of leaving outdoor security lights on at night, install motion sensors so they only turn on when needed. Encourage your local government to use only covered streetlights with the bulbs pointing down. Colored lights, such as red, yellow and amber, cause less light pollution than white light . Consider lining your pathways with glow stones for nighttime lighting. Their ambient glow doesn’t contribute to light pollution. Dan Monk, an astronomer in the U.K., said, “People often do get emotional when they sit under this amazing dark sky and they realize how small they are in the universe.” If we all do our part, we can share this experience. Via BBC , International Dark Sky Association and Conserve Energy Future Image via Felix Mittermeier

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COVID-19 lockdowns lead to decreasing light pollution

Neurological disorder leaves bears in California vulnerable

April 7, 2021 by  
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The  California Department of Fish and Wildlife  (CDFW) is concerned over increasing incidences of bears with rare neurological disorders showing up in residential areas. This follows an incident where a small black bear showed up at a utility building site last month in Pollock Pines in El Dorado County. The young bear was far too small, covered in ticks and looked weak; it did not exhibit normal bear behaviors, instead taking food and pets from humans. The incident in Pollock Pines was not the first of its kind. In the past 12 months, there have been similar encounters, with three other bears showing signs of neurological abnormalities. The bear found in Pollock Pines was diagnosed and euthanized. Related: While humans are away, Yosemite bears come out to play “Any time a wild animal comes into our care, the best-possible outcome is a release back to the wild,” Munk said. “That’s just not possible for these neurologically impaired bears. The second-best outcome would be a long, healthy life at a reputable zoo or wildlife sanctuary, but any inflammation of the brain is going to be significant for the individual bear and may have long-term consequences.” Diagnoses of the affected bears has revealed that they suffer from a condition known as encephalitis. This condition refers to the inflammation of the brain tissue, usually caused by viral or bacterial infection . Scientists have already discovered five novel viruses that could be related to the encephalitis. However, Munk said that the team has not found the exact cause of the condition in the affected bears. “At this point, we don’t know what causes the encephalitis so we don’t know what, if any, health risks these bears might pose to other animals,” Munk noted. Unfortunately, diagnosed bears that have already undergone treatment are not showing signs of recovery. Munk said that even if the animals are sent to animal sanctuaries, they will become a big burden to the facilities. “The few bears like this we have placed do not seem to fully recover, some requiring significant medical management for the life of the bear, which is a huge burden for these facilities that often operate on tight budgets,” Munk said. + California Department of Fish and Wildlife Images via Kirsten Macintyre and Shelly Blair

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Neurological disorder leaves bears in California vulnerable

Matter of opinion: What the 2021 Earth Day polls reveal

April 6, 2021 by  
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Matter of opinion: What the 2021 Earth Day polls reveal Joel Makower Tue, 04/06/2021 – 02:11 For more than a decade, this has been the time of year — the run-up to Earth Day — when I’ve surveyed the public opinion polls, of which there have been many, to assess consumer and citizen trends on environmental issues, notably related to shopping. I started doing this in 2007 and, with a few exceptions, continued it annually through last year . This year, I’m changing it up, for several reasons. First, the number of polls has continued to dwindle. For whatever reason, pollsters, and those who commission them, aren’t as interested in understanding consumers’ green sentiments. Or, to the extent they are, they’re conducting these polls privately, not for public consumption. (That also suggests that fewer companies are interested in being seen as thought leaders on green consumer issues.) The second reason is that these polls rarely change, a drum I’ve been beating for decades . In general, a large swath of consumers — typically, two-thirds to three-fourths — claim they are ready, willing and able to make green choices at home and when they shop. The reality, of course, suggests otherwise. So, even when the surveys are new, the insights aren’t. (Is it any wonder that I once suggested that the whole green marketing thing may not be worth the effort?) Third, the pandemic has roiled just about everything. More shopping is done online, which can make green shopping habits easier (by enabling us to find and buy products not sold in our local shopping haunts) and harder (by creating barriers to inspecting products and scouring labels). For example, despite nearly every survey showing that a sizable majority of consumers want to reduce their own plastic waste, the pandemic has necessarily increased the use of single-serve and disposable products and packaging. It will be interesting to track how those habits shift as we enter the post-pandemic era, but for now consumers aren’t willing to trade their own health for that of the planet. Some of the more interesting survey findings come from groups who seem more credible than consumers — or, at least, have fewer incentives for virtue-signaling. Beyond all that, some of the more interesting survey findings come from groups who seem more credible than consumers in their opinions — or, at least, have fewer incentives for virtue-signaling. Economists, for example. Consider a recent global survey conducted by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, focused on climate change risks and their related costs. Nearly three-quarters of the 738 economists around the world who responded said they agree “immediate and drastic action is necessary” to address the climate crisis. Fewer than 1 percent said climate change is not a serious problem. Of the economists surveyed, about three-fourths (76 percent) said the climate crisis likely or very likely will have a negative effect on global economic growth rates. And 70 percent said climate change will make income inequality worse within most countries, with 89 percent saying it will exacerbate inequality between high- and low-income countries. There’s good news for companies and policy makers here: 66 percent of economists agreed “the benefits of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 would likely outweigh the costs,” compared with just 12 percent who disagreed. As the report noted: “Costs are often cited as a reason to delay or avoid strong action on climate change, but this survey of hundreds of expert economists suggests that the weight of evidence is on the side of rapid action.” The people speak One citizen poll I found credible and intriguing, and without any apparent preconceptions or agendas. The Peoples’ Climate Vote , the largest survey of public opinion on climate change, polled 1.2 million people, including half a million younger than 18, across 50 countries, covering more than half the world’s population. The survey, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme and the University of Oxford, was distributed across mobile gaming networks in order to include audiences hard to reach through traditional polling. The results reveal a strong global appetite for climate action. For example, in eight of the 10 survey countries with the highest emissions from the?power sector, most respondents backed?more renewable energy. In four of the five countries ?with the highest emissions from land-use change, there was majority support for?conserving forests and land. Nine of 10 of the countries with the most urbanized populations backed?more use of bicycles or electric vehicles. Young people (under 18) are more likely to believe climate change is a global emergency than other age groups, but a substantial majority of older people still agreed with them. Nearly 70 percent of under-18s said climate change is a global emergency, compared to 58 percent of those over 60.  Of course, there can be a yawning gap between respondents’ stated desire for change and their willingness — and that of their political leaders — to implement said change. But political action starts with public demand (at least in theory), so it’s an encouraging sign. The corporate view And then there’s the global survey of business leaders conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Navex Global, a firm that provides risk and compliance management software and services. It found most corporate managers and executives say their companies are falling short when it comes to meeting their goals, objectives and commitments on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Although an overwhelming majority of respondents (81 percent) said their company has a formal ESG program in place, they did not express a high level of confidence their organization was following through as measured against its own standards. Only 50 percent said their company performs very effectively in meeting its environmental goals; only 37 percent rated their company’s performance as “very effective” on social issues. That feels like an honest appraisal, more so than most survey results by purportedly green-shopping consumers. And, as I’ve pointed out in the past, it once again raises the issue of who’s really greenwashing here — everyday consumers who swear they are engaging in responsible habits in their daily lives but aren’t, or companies that have set meaningful commitments, are measuring and reporting against them annually and are pretty candid about how they’re doing? Let’s just say that as yet another Earth Day approaches, there’s plenty of room for improvement on everyone’s part. I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote Some of the more interesting survey findings come from groups who seem more credible than consumers — or, at least, have fewer incentives for virtue-signaling. Topics Consumer Trends Public Opinion Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage  

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Matter of opinion: What the 2021 Earth Day polls reveal

These brilliant treehouses show what it means to be eco-kind

April 2, 2021 by  
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You’ve heard the expression that you can’t see the forest because of the trees? Well, Ivona Ercegovic looked at a forest and saw the future. This eco-kind project in a Croatian forest offers a retreat and event space unlike any other. The unique concept is based on treehouses. The project will have four themed treehouses , each one representing a basic element of nature: earth, air, fire and water. You can rent a single treehouse or buy out the property to host an event, enjoy a vacation or arrange a retreat with friends, family or colleagues. Through partnerships with non-profit organizations in the local area, the treehouses will also sometimes serve as a place of healing for abused and ill women and children. This, Ercegovic explains, is the concept of eco-kind. Natural forested land surrounds the treehouses, providing a backdrop painted by nature . Inside, the treehouses are light and airy. Many windows and skylights allow natural light to pour inside the spaces, which are designed with open floor plans. Each separate treehouse tells a story, using color and detail to allude to one of four elements. Three treehouses represent earth, wind and water , while the gathering space and main house represent fire. The treehouses are constructed with certified materials: tin roofs, wood and steel. Pressed mineral wool will also be used for high-quality thermal insulation . The property will include heat pumps, rainwater harvesting systems and a bio-septic sewage system. Water-saving showers and low-water toilets round out the houses’ eco-friendly systems. Ercegovic has had a love for forest environments since childhood. Trees have always inspired her, ever since her childhood goal of making the perfect treehouse. In Ercegovic’s own words: “I think trees are the most brilliant creatures on the planet. I love how alive they are, how connected with their roots they are with other trees and the magic that happens.” + Tree Elements Images via Ivona Ercegovic, Tree Elements

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These brilliant treehouses show what it means to be eco-kind

Miami Beach Aquatic Center and Park will include 3 acres of native landscaping

March 30, 2021 by  
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Architectural firm Brooks + Scarpa recently unveiled its design concept for the new Miami Beach Aquatic Center and Park. Among two pools and thousands of square feet worth of retail and community space, the project will highlight local plants and trees with native landscaping. The project is one of three finalists for the new community area in Florida . The community park will span three acres and will protect existing trees while adding a plethora of native plants to create its own microclimate. Additionally, the building’s green roof planters will harvest and treat stormwater, and all water runoff from the site will be directed to a system that will allow it to be reused for irrigation. Related: Serpentine roof tops a solar-powered community center in Western Sydney In a unique ecological setting like Florida, including native plants in landscape designers is an easy choice. Local plants are already adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and often do not require pesticides or as much irrigation (helping to prevent erosion). Plus, they are important for local pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. In addition to the green planters, the building’s roof also features solar panels to provide an alternative energy source during peak electricity hours. Located just a block from the beach, the structure’s ocean-facing terraces provide sweeping views for community members to enjoy. There is a 50-meter competition pool and a 25-meter multipurpose pool as well as a fitness center to promote healthy lifestyles. The architects hope that the center can become a “Community Living Room” for the local North Beach area, providing a central gathering space in a district that is already embracing walkability. There are spots to unwind but equal space to socialize with friends or shop thanks to the 10,000 square feet of retail. A 7,500-square-foot branch library welcomes students and community members to relax and learn. Tying the aquatic center and park together will be the parking lot, which is stacked to reduce its footprint and provide direct access to the lush green space. + Brooks + Scarpa Via ArchDaily   Images via Brooks + Scarpa

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Miami Beach Aquatic Center and Park will include 3 acres of native landscaping

No waste, no carbon, no wonder this net-zero home breaks the mold

March 29, 2021 by  
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When the Baboolals looked around their North Carolina community, they saw what many people see in their local areas: cookie-cutter houses that consume excess energy. A desire to break free from this mold is how their journey to create a net-zero house began. Working with architect Arielle Condoret Schechter, the Baboolals outlined a few essentials for the home. First, the net-zero home needed to be well-insulated, air-tight and energy-efficient. To reach a net-zero energy bill, the home needed a system to produce as much energy as it consumes. Achieving these net-zero goals meant creating a house with an air-tight building envelope to prevent energy loss. Additionally, a photovoltaic array on the roof generates solar power and is covered with a white cool-roof membrane. The windows are also triple-glazed and protected with deep roof overhangs. With these net-zero goals in mind, the family also wanted a functional home that suited everyone — parents, pets and children included. An open, airy and inviting central public zone meets the need for a functional family area. The gathering space includes a gourmet kitchen, deck access across the back of the house, and dining and living areas. The house also incorporates a study/music room, laundry room, pantry and two-car garage. Meanwhile, the north wall’s glass doors make it easy to marry the outside world with the home’s interior. But everyone needs their privacy sometimes. That’s why the home includes a private zone for the parents. The kids also enjoy their own separate bedroom suites and a playroom. The design naturally flows together, allowing one space to lead into the next. This is exemplified by the sleek deck that leads one from inside the house to the beautiful outdoors . Seamless design and net-zero strategies combine to make the Baboolal home both beautiful and energy-efficient . This modern house gives everyone the spaces they need while remaining sustainable and carbon-free. + Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA Photography via © Tzu Chen Photography

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No waste, no carbon, no wonder this net-zero home breaks the mold

China’s new frontier for VOC regulations

March 23, 2021 by  
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China’s new frontier for VOC regulations Shuying Xu Tue, 03/23/2021 – 01:15 As the global economy reawakens after the COVID-19 shutdown, air emissions and VOC enforcement in China remain a hot topic. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) combine with nitrogen oxide to create ozone, a key precursor to smog. Over the past several decades, public health and environmental concerns have made controlling smog a top national policy goal in China and enforcement an increasingly critical issue for companies to navigate. Industries getting particular focus when it comes to VOC management in China include electronics, packaging and printing, pharmaceuticals, petrochemical, chemical, industrial coating, oil storage and transportation. In March 2020, for example, China’s State Council announced four national requirements for VOC content in adhesives, coatings, inks and cleaning agents widely used in the electronics and electrical industry; the stringency and implementation of these mandates may have a significant impact on production and business risk moving forward. Implementation of these standards is scheduled to start in April. For any company operating in or with significant supply chain exposure to China, building an understanding of the national and local regulatory landscape and best practices related to VOC mitigation recently has become a vital step to reducing the risk of business interruption arising from environmental enforcement that began in 2016 . Air emission reform in China More than a decade ago, national policies laid the groundwork for reducing air emissions in China. In 2010, the Central Government of China integrated the “Guideline on Strengthening Joint Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution to Improve Air Quality” into its 12th Five Year Plan. This enshrined into law China’s first air emissions management plan and formalized an approach to regional collaboration. The Law on Prevention and Control of Air Pollution, also known as the ” Air Law ,” was updated in 2015 (and again in 2018) to direct local governments in key regions to form emergency response plans for heavily polluting weather conditions. When energy use surges in the autumn and winter seasons, particulate matter and ozone increase to  dangerously high levels. Strategies include tackling large networks of smaller companies, which emit up to 60% of VOCs in China, and penalizing non-compliant companies by lowering their ‘social credit’ rating. The 2018 Three ? Year Action Plan for Winning the Blue Sky Defense Battle narrowed the scope of air emission management by focusing on the rectification of key regions and industries and establishing a goal of reducing 15 percent of emissions by 2020 (Chinese) , compared to 2015 levels. Strategies include tackling large networks of smaller companies, which emit up to 60 percent of VOCs in China , and penalizing non-compliant companies by lowering their “social credit” rating. For the past 15 years, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) has collected and analyzed publicly disclosed environmental quality and pollution source records from hundreds of local governments and corporations across China. IPE’s online data analysis tool shows that while the total number of regulatory violations in China decreased across industries between 2016 and 2020, the proportion of enterprises with air emission issues, including VOC violations, has increased year over year. The overall decline in total violations across industries has been attributed to increased transparency among local governments and a 2016 spike in factory inspections (and shutdowns) that took place across China: The 2016 wave of enforcement actions resulted in renewed effort by companies that hadn’t been shut down to take regulatory concerns more seriously since then. Targets for regulation The unique regulatory demands and opacity of local governments, which can insist on short-term, emergency action to reduce emissions, can be a challenge to navigate. Yet, a predictable pattern gradually has emerged in how authorities determine non-compliant behavior. First, industries that emit or consume large quantities of VOCs are prioritized. Companies from such key VOC-emitting industries will be honed in on regardless of specific processes, consumption rates or volume of emissions. Second, authorities focus on specific companies within these industries that are large emitters and key industrial processes (coating, painting, printing, etc.) at those companies. Third, regional and local governments adjust reduction measures according to a factory’s environmental performance level. For example, if a total emission reduction goal of a region or city can be achieved, the least polluting companies may take reduction measures voluntarily (and not necessarily fully in accordance with regional guidelines) — while all others will be required to strictly follow reduction requirements Local governments maintain and, in many cases, publish lists that rank factories according to their performance level. Factories with substandard performance are required to monitor emissions and make the results available to the public, not dissimilar to the U.S. The contents of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and National Pollution Discharge Permit (PDPs) also may be used to determine if and how many VOCs will be generated when a factory completes a construction project or when a factory is fully operational. In a PDP, the maximum volume of VOC emissions that a factory can emit is stated. This number is calculated based on EIA documents, periodic factory monitoring and online monitoring data of a factory. Environmental capacity Local authorities have the ability to not only implement emergency restrictions during heavily polluting weather conditions but also may apply controls if total annual emissions by factories surpass regional emission caps. The Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), a United Nations advisory body, describes the concept of environmental capacity as “a property of the environment and its ability to accommodate a particular activity or rate of an activity … without unacceptable impact.” Environmental capacity is widely used in China to define acceptable limits for the amount of pollutants produced or discharged into the atmosphere. Each region has its own capacity and local governments determine quotas for each factory. If no quota is available for a factory to construct, rebuild or expand the operation, they are generally prohibited from proceeding. Examples of best practices Once companies are identified and included in a governmental list, authorities can require industries and factories to set up online pollutant monitoring that is connected to the local authority’s supervisory system. Such systems are typically designed to capture instantaneous VOC emission data. While some multinationals with operations in China — such as Toyota and General Motors — have begun to establish VOC reduction goals comparable to their GHG emission reduction goals, efforts to address VOC emissions within industrial supply chains and operations remain varied and limited. Companies from key VOC-emitting industries will be honed in on regardless of specific processes, consumption rates or volume of emissions. Innovative practices often can be found at the local level. The municipality of Shanghai, China’s largest city, is often a leader in this regard. Shanghai offers an example of a municipal government that has established a long-term protocol for VOC emission management, aligning with the goals of the national Blue Sky Defense Battle. As part of its “One Factory, One Control Plan” (Chinese), Shanghai provides a comprehensive list of methods (and projected timelines) for reducing VOC emissions across 29 diverse industries, ranging from ink and adhesives to PVC and synthetic fiber production. Two industries that emit significant quantities of VOCs and have extensive supply chains in China are the electronics and cleaning agent industries. Shanghai outlines specific governance tasks for reducing VOC emissions along various stages of production. Selected examples of required and recommended actions include: For electronics production: Use powder or water-based coatings and UV curing processes. Use electrostatic spraying. Use automated and intelligent spraying equipment in place of manual application. Adopt processes in which coatings, thinners and cleaning agents are prepared, used and recycled within sealed storage and production spaces. Transport coatings, thinners and cleaning agents in closed pipelines or containers. Collect and treat wastewater in a closed process. For cleaning agent manufacturing: Specify limits on the use of chemicals such as methylene chloride, trichloromethane, formaldehyde, benzene and toluene and xylene, among others. Replace solvent-based cleaning agents with water-based and semi-aqueous alternatives. Reduce airflow around cleaning equipment; reduce the flow of liquid from items that are being cleaned. Designate rooms specifically for cleaning, exhaust air collection, and treating cleaning exhaust. Recycle cleaning solvents. Use activated carbon absorption; record the temperature, regeneration period and replacement amount of activated carbon. While this article provides select examples of steps being taken by companies and municipalities, corporate industry goals and action plans for VOC reduction remain unclear and inconsistent. The requirements and policies of VOC management in China are dynamic and growing more stringent both nationally and locally. Part of the challenge for global companies is understanding and interpreting requirements, identifying the potential for high-risk interruption and determining economical and environmentally responsible actions that can mitigate or avoid these risks. Furthermore, unique policy is being formulated according to the needs and specialties of different regions, industries and factory conditions. Companies that have responsibility for facilities and supply chains in China can benchmark against these to better understand their regulatory and business interruption risks. Pull Quote Strategies include tackling large networks of smaller companies, which emit up to 60% of VOCs in China, and penalizing non-compliant companies by lowering their ‘social credit’ rating. The 2016 wave of enforcement actions resulted in renewed effort by companies that hadn’t been shut down to take regulatory concerns more seriously since then. Companies from key VOC-emitting industries will be honed in on regardless of specific processes, consumption rates or volume of emissions. Contributors Christopher Hazen Topics Chemicals & Toxics Policy & Politics COVID-19 China Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off A regenerative thermal oxidizer unit in China. Image courtesy of Greenment

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The food and ag sector’s inequality pandemic

March 19, 2021 by  
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The food and ag sector’s inequality pandemic Jim Giles Fri, 03/19/2021 – 01:15 As we passed the one-year anniversary of lockdown in the United States, I planned to write about how the pandemic has affected sustainability in food and ag. But I kept thinking of the number of people felled by the virus — 536,000 people in the U.S. to date — and asking myself different questions: Why didn’t companies and regulators in these sectors do more to protect workers? Or at least compensate employees for the risks they took on? Perhaps the most shameful shortcomings came in the meatpacking industry. Investigative reporting by the New Yorker , the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and others revealed numerous examples of companies failing to implement social distancing and detering unwell workers from taking time off. It’s hard to be precise about the impact of these failures, but they surely play some role in the alarmingly high rates of COVID the U.S. Department of Agriculture found in counties dependent on meatpacking jobs:   Another administration might have intervened. Instead, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in April that he claimed required meatpacking plants to stay open. ( The order did not do that , but it was effective PR anyway.) Company executives and the former president faced a choice: safeguard workers and their communities, or ensure a steady supply of chicken nuggets. They chose the nuggets. Grocery workers also found themselves on the frontline. One study, conducted at a Boston store in May, revealed the infection rate in workers to be around 20 times higher than in the local community . Early in the pandemic, it seemed these risks would be acknowledged. Billboards lauded the contribution of retail workers. Some firms awarded them “hero pay” bonuses. Grocery retailers certainly could afford to raise wages, because the closure of restaurants led to a jump in revenues. The pandemic and the profits persisted; hero pay did not. A November study from the Brookings Institution found that despite what the authors describe as “eye-popping” corporate earnings in the retail sector, the average worker at large U.S. stores had gone 133 days without receiving any hero pay .  Workers on farms were, like retailer employees, initially declared to be “essential” — only to have that status watered down. In October, a study found that one in five farmworkers in Salinas Valley, California, tested positive for COVID antibodies. Because of such high infection rates, federal vaccine guidelines state that agricultural and food retail workers should be among those second in line for vaccines, behind healthcare workers and residents of long-term healthcare facilities. But it’s up to the states to implement these guidelines. Several, including Iowa, Massachusetts and New York, have pushed either grocery or farms workers farther back in line.  All these groups — the lettuce pickers and the folks on the chicken disassembly lines and the crews in supermarket warehouses — have long suffered from another kind of pandemic: inequality. Workers in these jobs are typically poorly paid and more likely to be undocumented. They are disproportionately people of color. When it comes to coronavirus, these factors are effectively preexisting conditions. In California, for instance, excess mortality among food and agriculture workers jumped by 39 percent during 2020 , more than in any other occupation. For Latinx agricultural workers, the increase was 59 percent; for Black retail workers, 36 percent; for white workers in food and ag, 16 percent. At this point, it might feel like I’ve strayed into a problem far beyond the control of readers of this newsletter. It’s reasonable to expect food and ag companies to keep workers safe. But if economic and racial inequity are the root causes here, isn’t this a job for governments? The answer is only yes if you insist on the narrowest, profit-focused definition of what companies exist to do. Plenty of companies take a broader view by including metrics related to inequity in their definition of success. Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, publishes human rights data about its operations, which it uses to benchmark progress toward a commitment to paying all suppliers a living wage. The company is also committed to spending $2 billion annually with suppliers owned and managed by under-represented groups. Too many food and ag companies failed their workers during the pandemic. If your company could have done more, take a look at Unilever’s strategy. Ask your executives or board how they can implement something similar. The results would be spectacular. If Unilever hits its target, that one company alone will ensure that more than a quarter of a million people in its supply chain, many in developing nations, will receive a living wage. When a pandemic or other disaster next strikes, every one of those people will be better able to protect their families.  For more great analysis of sustainable food systems sign up for Food Weekly , our free email newsletter. Topics Human Rights COVID-19 Social Justice Food Systems Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off An international team of farm workers wearing medical face masks harvesting zucchini. Image by Shutterstock/Iakov Filimonov

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Thinking Huts and Studio Mortazavi plan a 3D-printed school in Madagascar

March 16, 2021 by  
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International architectural firm Studio Mortazavi has teamed up with Colorado-based nonprofit Thinking Huts to propose designs for the world’s first 3D-printed school to be located in southern Madagascar . Developed to improve access to education in remote and impoverished areas, the modular concept taps into 3D printing for its low-carbon benefits and ability to shorten construction time from months to a matter of days. The design team, which has also partnered with Finland-based 3D technology company Hyperion Robotics and local Madagascar university EMIT, hopes to break ground on the pilot project in 2021. According to UNESCO, over 260 million children around the world lack access to education — a staggering number that includes over half of Madagascar’s 1.3 million primary-age children, who are not enrolled in school due to classroom overcrowding. As a result, Thinking Huts and Studio Mortazavi chose southern Madagascar for the pilot site, not only because of the pressing need for more educational infrastructure but also because of the country’s economic growth potential, political stability and optimal conditions for solar harvesting. Related: BIG unveils sustainable, 3D-printed lunar igloos for Moon exploration The 3D-printed pilot school will follow a low-cost modular design for scalability and adaptability. Inspired by a beehive, each wedge-shaped module will be printed from clay with natural pigments from the local landscape, then joined together with other units into a variety of configurations. Each module can be used as a standalone classroom that accommodates 20 children with space for a library, reading area, whiteboard desks and chairs, two individual toilets, a shared sink and storage. The modules can also be easily adapted for other uses such as a dance studio, woodworking shop and even housing. The eco-minded prototype project is expected to feature a vertical garden on the outside of its 3D-printed walls as well as rooftop solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system. “We are thrilled to be working with Studio Mortazavi who is at the forefront of design and innovation, forming a strong partnership that values sustainability within the construction industry as we seek to increase access to education via 3D-printed schools,” said Maggie Grout, founder of Thinking Huts. “We believe education is the vital catalyst to solving global issues ranging from gender inequality to poverty; achievable through local partnerships, we are building a future where communities have the necessary infrastructure to ensure that education is accessible to all.” Once the prototype project is complete, Thinking Huts hopes to build three additional schools with its materials partner LafargeHolcim in Madagascar’s Ibity. + Thinking Huts Images via Thinking Huts

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Experimental ILOW to follow the suns trajectory for less energy use

March 8, 2021 by  
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International design office Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) and Bouygues Immobilier have revealed designs for ILOW (pronounced ee-low), an experimental and sustainably minded building that aims to bridge two different socio-economic neighborhoods near Paris. Proposed for the commune of Nanterre, the project would be located between La Défense — the financial powerhouse for Paris that’s also Europe’s largest business district — and a neighborhood home to Tours Nuages (Cloud Towers), a pioneering post-war social housing project designed by architect Émile Aillaud. Designed with a parametric approach to resemble a pair of open arms, the curvaceous ILOW references the Cloud Towers’ mimetic form while introducing new energy-efficient construction. Named after the pun on the French word for “small island” often used in the phrase “an island of greenery,” ILOW makes social cohesion and sustainability its two main design objectives. The curvaceous building consists of two wings that frame a central green courtyard, which connects to an adjacent public park. Topped with a lush roof garden , the 134,550-square-foot mixed-use building would primarily house office spaces stacked atop a publicly accessible and transparent ground floor with a restaurant and a café. This building would serve as a physical “common ground” for the two socially separated neighborhoods. Related: Vincent Callebaut proposes a green, food-producing footbridge for Paris “We are trying to use design promote social encounters — between different people, cultures and social groups,” said Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This is what is unique about physical — as opposed to digital — space, something which the pandemic made us all too aware of. We can use architecture to bridge across different social worlds.” To minimize the building’s energy consumption, the architects have used a parametric approach to inform the arrangement and sizes of the facade’s prefabricated modules, which are engineered to follow the sun’s trajectory to ensure optimal natural light indoors and minimize energy use. CRA has filed permits for ILOW to the local municipal authority. + Carlo Ratti Associati Images via Carlo Ratti Associati

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Experimental ILOW to follow the suns trajectory for less energy use

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