Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

June 1, 2020 by  
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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause? Joel Makower Mon, 06/01/2020 – 00:00 If you were to believe the mainstream business media, there would be no question whatsoever that the twin crises of a pandemic and a recession have pretty much put the kibosh on sustainable business activity. I mean, why, amid all this human and economic carnage, should companies be focused on anything besides keeping their doors open? Last month, for example, the Wall Street Journal published a piece (“Sustainability Was Corporate America’s Buzzword. This Crisis Changes That”) proclaiming that when it comes to corporate commitments and programs, “executives have called a timeout.” It said in part: Today, every occupant of every C-suite is trying to figure out what they’re willing to throw overboard as the economic storm spawned by the pandemic is swamping their ships. Businesses that were planning to help save the world are now simply saving themselves. Among the Journal’s proof points: General Motors put the brakes on a car-sharing program, Starbucks washed its hands of filling reusable coffee mugs and “companies have delayed sustainability reports.” Yes, we get it: No one wants to share a vehicle with strangers or refill an unwashed coffee mug during a pandemic. No question those programs should be “thrown overboard,” at least temporarily. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. All of which, my friends, is the editorial equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard: something so dissonant with reality that it makes my head hurt. The reality is that corporate sustainability is alive and well. Unlike previous economic downturns, sustainability isn’t being jettisoned in the spirit of corporate cost-savings. It’s being kept alive as part of a pathway back to profitability. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Need proof that reports of the death of sustainability are premature? Let’s begin with a few headlines: Southern Company commits to net-zero emissions by 2050 Microsoft committed to protect more land than it operates on globally by 2025 Citigroup to halt all financing for thermal coal mining by 2030 Shell plans to achieve net-zero emissions across its product manufacturing operations Mattel launches latest sugarcane-based products Volvo and Daimler launch €1.2 billion fuel cell truck joint venture General Mills commits to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 All of those happened in April. April! The Lost Month. When jobs and economic activity essentially went poof. When more than 190,000 humans died of COVID-19 globally, nearly five times the number one month earlier, and more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs. When the U.S. services sector posted its biggest contraction in more than a decade and the price of oil turned negative for the first time in history. When the global economy essentially sank like a stone as people world over sheltered in place. April! Okay, you say, April coincides with Earth Day, when companies traditionally strut their sustainability stuff. Thus, it’s not a good indicator. Fair enough. In that case, here are some headlines from May: Total pledges to deliver net-zero operations by mid-century Campbell Soup to transition to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2030 Dunkin’ switches to plastic-free cups and plans to double number of green restaurants French corporates call for “green and inclusive recovery” BNP Paribas accelerates “complete coal exit” plan Intel’s 2030 commitments include “shared” climate and social goals More than 300 companies push U.S. Congress to promote climate action Pernod Ricard moves up ban on single-use plastics to 2021 ADM to pioneer biofuels, more carbon capture projects Over 150 global corporations urge world leaders for net-zero recovery from COVID-19 Siemens Gamesa unveils plans for “world’s largest wind turbine” Google to stop making AI tools for oil and gas extraction Half of Cargill’s sustainable cocoa now traceable from farm to factory I could go on; there’s more where these came from. Still, this baker’s dozen of storylines provides a peek into what happened in the 31 days just ended, well before most cities and states have started to reopen. Another data point, albeit anecdotal: The 90 or so members of our GreenBiz Executive Network — sustainability leaders at large companies — remain firmly in their jobs. Sure, there’s been some churn — both comings and goings — but that’s normal. There seem to be precious few layoffs among these professionals. That could change if the downturn drags on, but so far, so good.  Five easy pieces So, why is sustainability still going strong within the private sector amid this terrifying time? Five reasons: 1. Corporate sustainability is a long-term evolution. As several of the above headlines suggest, companies are making commitments into 2025, 2030 and beyond. That means they have set the wheels in motion for long-term structural change. These changes generally don’t come and go based on quarterly cycles. 2. Companies understand that sustainability engenders resilience by making supply chains more transparent, operations more efficient and, increasingly, improving the ability of operations to withstand or recover from calamities of all types. 3. Investors see sustainability as material. Largely because of No. 2 above, institutional shareholders see sustainability performance as a proxy for a well-managed company that is taking a risked-based approach to strategy and investing. And they’re not shy about letting companies know this. 4. There’s a growing call for a business-led “green recovery” to revive economies around the world and help them prepare for the next likely pandemic: climate change. While the Green New Deal isn’t yet getting traction in Washington, D.C., some of its components already are being tucked into the recovery legislation. And in Europe, “green recovery” is already a mainstream meme . 5. Companies understand that the world is watching. They want to be able to attract and retain customers and talent — to be seen as part of the solution or at least not part of the problem. True, we’ve been hearing this for years, and there is strong evidence that job shoppers and seekers have been seeking out “good” companies. But the times have ratcheted up those concerns. In a world where talent, both young and experienced, are drawn to employers that are helping address the world’s problems, who will want to work for your company? Of course, it’s not all a rosy scenario. Clean energy jobs have been decimated . Hiring is on hold for many open corporate sustainability positions. More than a few sustainable business professionals are devoting their time these days to the pandemic, to ensure the well-being of employees, suppliers, customers and others, and that facilities will be healthy places to work once the recovery kicks in. Some are itching to get back to their “day job.” But let’s stop and briefly celebrate the moment: Corporate sustainability continues, largely unhindered, during some of the worst moments in modern human history. Its value and importance are being seen as central to addressing the economic, environmental and social problems we face, and to increasing societal resilience to the next wave of shocks, in whatever form they take. And, little by little, companies are stepping up to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities. Okay, enough celebrating. It’s time to get back to the hard work still to be done. Pull Quote For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Topics Leadership State of the Profession 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, via Shutterstock Close Authorship

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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

Activists trying to prevent the vaquita porpoise from extinction

March 18, 2019 by  
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Researchers just confirmed the sad news that only around 10 vaquita porpoises remain in the wild. Unless immediate steps are taken, these sea creatures will undoubtedly become extinct over the next few years. Vaquita porpoises are among the ocean’s smallest cetaceans and they only reside in the northern Gulf of California. The update on population numbers comes after news of the first vaquita death this year. Scientists are expected to release more information on that front later this week. Related: Ghost gear is haunting our oceans The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita is leading the charge in preventing these beloved creatures from becoming extinct. The conservation group challenged the president of Mexico , Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, to put a stop to gillnet fishing in vaquita habitats in hopes to boost population numbers. “One of Earth’s most incredible creatures is about to be wiped off the planet forever,” Sarah Uhlemann, the head of the Center for Biological Diversity, explained. “…Time is running out for President Lopez Obrador to stop all gillnet fishing and save the vaquita.” Gillnet fishing practices are the biggest threat to the vaquita and other marine wildlife, including the totoaba, another endangered species. Mexican has attempted to curb gillnet fishing but has yet to initiate any plans that work. Vaquita population declined a staggering 50 percent last year alone. The highest estimates put the number of vaquitas at 22, while some researchers say that number could be as low as six. Mexico has passed laws that outlaw the use of gillnet fishing. Enforcing those laws, however, has been the challenge. Last year, conservationists uncovered over 400 gillnet rigs in the vaquita’s habitat, and their efforts to remove them were met with violence. Unless Obrador and his administration does something fast, the vaquita will be killed off before his term is up. Although the numbers are alarmingly small, scientists believe there is hope for vaquita porpoises . Fortunately, the remaining vaquitas are still having babies and remain healthy, which are the two main elements for recovering an endangered species that is one the verge of extinction. Via Eco Watch Image via Paula Olson

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Activists trying to prevent the vaquita porpoise from extinction

What Green New Deal advocates can learn from the 2009 economic stimulus act

February 27, 2019 by  
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The closest thing to the GND that we’ve ever had was the Recovery Act — and it holds key lessons for today.

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What Green New Deal advocates can learn from the 2009 economic stimulus act

Health departments are on the frontlines of climate change

February 27, 2019 by  
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The impacts on human health include extreme heat to mosquito-borne diseases. How can health care providers keep up?

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Health departments are on the frontlines of climate change

The kids are alright

February 27, 2019 by  
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James Murray reflects on school strikes, theories of change and vegan sausage rolls.

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The kids are alright

Infographic: Energy-Efficient Desalination Could Help Provide for Those Who Lack Access to Clean Drinking Water

March 22, 2013 by  
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The world is facing a serious water shortage. Humans are using more than 9 quadrillion liters of water per year (or 25 trillion liters per day), and more than one-third of people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. For a long time, environmental groups have warned that desalination is not the answer to the shortage of freshwater because it is so energy intensive; depending too much on desalination would increase CO2 emissions while damaging marine habitats. But could new technology make desalination more sustainable? In honor of World Water Day , desalination company Energy Recovery has produced this infographic explaining how new advances in energy-efficient desalination technology could help provide clean water to those who need it most. Read the rest of Infographic: Energy-Efficient Desalination Could Help Provide for Those Who Lack Access to Clean Drinking Water Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: desalination , energy recovery , energy-efficient desalination , filtered saltwater , freshwater , saltwater , sustainable desalination , UN world water day , water issues , world water day

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Infographic: Energy-Efficient Desalination Could Help Provide for Those Who Lack Access to Clean Drinking Water

United States Infrastructure Scores D+ in New ASCE Report

March 22, 2013 by  
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Infrastructure photo from Shutterstock Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report on the state of the nation’s infrastructure – and every year the United States receives an abysmal rating. But for the first time in 15 years, the United States actually saw an improvement in the latest report. Before you get too excited, the rating was raised from really bad to a little less really bad . For 2013, the country received a D+ on its report card, which is up from the D that it received in 2009. If the United States were a high school student, it would be on the crumbling road to summer school. Read the rest of United States Infrastructure Scores D+ in New ASCE Report Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: America’s Failing infrastructure , America’s roads , American Society of Civil Engineers , ASCE , ASCE Report Card , United State infrastructure , United States infrastructure spending , US dam rating , us infrastructure , US infrastructure rating , US infrastructure report card , US levee rating , US roads rating , USACE

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United States Infrastructure Scores D+ in New ASCE Report

Banish Dry Skin: Here are 7 All-Natural Body Scrubs That You Can Make Yourself!

March 22, 2013 by  
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Read the rest of Banish Dry Skin: Here are 7 All-Natural Body Scrubs That You Can Make Yourself! Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: body care , body scrub , DIY , diy beauty products , organic body care , organic skincare products , sea salt , skincare

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Banish Dry Skin: Here are 7 All-Natural Body Scrubs That You Can Make Yourself!

Parallax Landscape Re-Imagines a Low-Carbon Future for a Coal-Dominated Australian City

February 11, 2013 by  
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Read the rest of Parallax Landscape Re-Imagines a Low-Carbon Future for a Coal-Dominated Australian City Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: “sustainable architecture” , Architecture , australia , brownfield , coal power , Competition , electrical generation , green architecture , Green Building , green design , latrobe city , parallax landscape , recovery , sustainable design , transiting cities , Urban design , victoria

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Parallax Landscape Re-Imagines a Low-Carbon Future for a Coal-Dominated Australian City

Chris & Malissa Tack’s Tiny Tack House Lives Large in Washington State

February 11, 2013 by  
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Read the rest of Chris & Malissa Tack’s Tiny Tack House Lives Large in Washington State Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: “sustainable architecture” , chris and malissa tack , eco design , eco home , green architecture , Green Building , green design , green home , micro home , portland alternative dwellings , Small home , small space living , solar powered home , Sustainable Building , sustainable design , tiny houses , tiny tack house , tumbleweed homes

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Chris & Malissa Tack’s Tiny Tack House Lives Large in Washington State

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