The Estée Lauder Companies’ sustainability leader on racial justice, ‘sector-agnostic’ solutions

July 27, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green, Recycle

The Estée Lauder Companies’ sustainability leader on racial justice, ‘sector-agnostic’ solutions Heather Clancy Mon, 07/27/2020 – 01:30 In the four years since Nancy Mahon assumed responsibility for CSR and sustainability strategy at The Estée Lauder Companies — she’s currently senior vice president of corporate citizenship and sustainability — her team has launched a series of new initiatives that are a “first” among her organization’s sector. The list includes the company’s first virtual power purchase agreement for 22 megawatts, a move made in pursuit of its 2020 net-zero carbon emission goal. More recently, it energized on-site two solar arrays — one at its Melville, New York, campus that will produce 1,800 megawatt-hours of power annually, and a smaller one at the Aveda brand’s campus in Minnesota. The New York installation will provide 100 percent of the electricity required for its Joseph H. Lauder office facility, while the Minnesota one will contribute up to 50 percent — the remainder of its power will come from utility-sourced wind power.  Moreover, Estée Lauder Companies also has declared its intention to make 75 percent to 100 percent of its packaging recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled or recoverable by 2025 — the strategy will depend on the needs of individual brands. As with many companies heavily dependent on nature for product ingredients, Estée Lauder Companies is developing biodiversity action plans and becoming far more attuned to its role in deforestation, afforestation and reforestation. And befitting its heavily female clientele, the company also funds initiatives focused on raising up girls and women, such as HERProject, a BSR initiative aimed at supporting low-income women in global supply chains. I recently checked in with Mahon, one of this year’s 25 Badass Women in Sustainability , to get an update on how her priorities have shifted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the corporate awakening about systemic racism. In mid-June, the company issued a series of sweeping new racial equity policies , including reaching “U.S. population parity” for Black employees at all levels of the company within five years, doubling the amount spent on sourcing ingredients, packaging materials and supplies from Black-owned businesses over the next three years, and committing $10 million over the next three years to support racial and social justice initiatives. “Moving forward, I think where we are energized as a division — it’s become super clear — [is] on how core the work we do is to the business, not only the environmental side, but also the social side,” Mahon told me. Following are excerpts from our conversations, edited for clarity and length. Heather Clancy: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the focus of the Estée Lauder sustainability team, if at all?  Nancy Mahon:  The clear disparate impacts of COVID-19 across countries and communities has really highlighted, and I think really illustrated, the intersection … of gender justice and social injustice, essentially, and racial injustice. While before that intersectionality might have been a little obtuse for folks, it’s much clearer now that if you come from a community where there’s high rates of pollution, there’s a huge intersection between high rates of pollution, access to healthcare and health outcomes and COVID-19 outcomes. The speed, the velocity and the ferocity of COVID-19 really highlighted that in a way that both unearthed that underlying reality and threw a spotlight on it. And also for consumers, [it] really allowed an opportunity to focus on what was most important in their lives around healthcare, around their families, and put an emphasis — really, I would say it hasn’t changed it, but it has really accelerated consumer interest, particularly — on supply chains, which is super interesting …  Similar to HIV, there is a question of what [we will] make of this moment and how will we as stewards of funds or stewards of companies or stewards of our families make a difference. Internally, what it’s allowed us to do in a very agile, very energizing way is move very quickly across different functions to stand up programs that we were planning on setting up. For instance, we created an employee relief fund, and we had targeted that we were going to do it basically this fall. When [COVID-19} happened, we thought, “You know what? We have to do this right away.” We had incredible partnership from [human resources] and [information technology] and legal, and we started up right away, then globalized it.  We also created [an accelerated racial and social justice grants campaign] in a matter of a couple of weeks. In that way, we’ve had opportunities, which hopefully we’ve seized upon. Moving forward, I think where we are energized as a division — it’s become super clear — on how core the work we do is to the business, not only the environmental side, but also the social side. Clancy: In a previous role, you were very closely involved with addressing the AIDS crisis, which is a humanitarian but also an economic crisis as well. How are you layering that perspective into the strategy as you’re mobilizing around COVID-19?  Mahon: If there is a positive to all of this, it’s that in terms of HIV, it took us well over two decades to have a deep discussion around structural racism or classism or the ways in which structures like a criminal justice system or a healthcare system basically disadvantage certain communities. It was always very hard to get at that discussion. It was much easier to fund street outreach or various research pieces or services than it was to really say, “We have to look at the way we act — either as consumers or as companies — and we might need to give something up, in addition to actually giving.” …  What also then is a big emphasis, understandably, is the movement around action, whether it be FDA approval of drugs or the acceleration of accessibility of healthcare or integration of HIV into other healthcare systems. And we’re seeing that very quickly now, the fact that out of the gate we’re funding a group like Equal Justice Initiative around structural racism and the criminal justice system is exciting.  There has been one difference: The acceleration of funding in the field. I was on a call [recently] and Darren Walker from Ford Foundation, who’s so eloquent, basically said that there is roughly a half a billion dollars now in the field of racial and social justice, whereas last year there was only 10 percent of that.  Clancy: Wow.  Mahon:  Similar to HIV, there is a question of what [we will] make of this moment and how will we as stewards of funds or stewards of companies or stewards of our families make a difference. How will we change our behavior? The exciting moment that we have. The complexity, of course, is that it’s up against enormous economic loss, a lot of fear — which we always had in HIV, but we didn’t have the economic backdrop that we currently have overall to COVID-19. But there’s a lot of great people who are rowing in the same direction now. The question is how do we integrate ourselves? How do we sit in on committees that are focusing on office reopenings or how we’re doing with COVID? How do we integrate social impact and environmental impact into the way we do business every day, and how we as a luxury company show up in our communities? One of our strongest brands, Aveda, is in Blaine, Minnesota, and we’ve had town halls and will continue to have town halls with our employees there, and how are they engaging … [and] thinking about how they can help? We spent a lot of time thinking about, well, what are virtual volunteering opportunities? What are the ways that we can basically help our employees channel their passion? We decided that we were going to allow, in our year one [of our response], our employees to give away most of the money. We created [an internal] five-times matching campaign, and the groups we selected were Black Lives Matter Global Foundation Network, Equal Justice Initiative, Race Forward, NAACP Legal Defense Fund [and Educational Fund]. And we basically said to our employees: Every dollar that you give, [the company] will match it five times. We saw literally over 4,000 employee [donations]. We had a higher engagement rate than we’ve ever seen. People were posting on their social channels. We’ll be giving away [more than] $2.3 million through [company matches]. Clancy: Putting the long-term lens on, have there been any adjustments to your long-term corporate sustainability plans in this period? Have your priorities changed?  Mahon: I don’t think they changed. We have been fortunate in that our overall performance over the last I’d say two years in particular has really accelerated. We’re getting recognized by CDP or MSCI or ISS for that, which we find very gratifying. It feels like directionally we’re headed in the right way. And we certainly see in our brands, our consumers and our employees are basically saying, “We want more of this.” While it hasn’t changed the direction, it’s definitely accelerated. For instance, our climate work. We hit [RE100] early [in the United States and Canada]. We’re looking to hit our science-based target early…  We are leaning in on our social impact work, which we’re historically very well-known for. We have integration with social justice. That was an area in our social impact work which we hadn’t done in the past. Many of us had done somewhat similar work. We leaned in and spoke with allies and the Ford Foundation and some of the great foundations that are doing this work. We are looking forward to being part of a broader community and trying to leverage our corporate microphone and our company values to play an even bigger role. So I’d say [we’re moving] faster, perhaps more dimensionalized, and definitely [have a] better understanding not only how do we fund racial and social justice, but how do we as a business take concrete action around hiring and what our creative marketing looks like. So that’s very exciting, because what you don’t want as somebody in my job is to kind of be the nice people that aren’t really integrated into the business.  Clancy: Much of the work on renewable energy has really focused on electricity. Obviously, one of the toughest areas and processes to decarbonize is manufacturing. What solutions are you exploring for your production facilities? Mahon: Waste and water and energy are all linked together. Within each facility, we have an incredible team that’s been focusing on this for quite some time, which is looking at how efficient is our water use? Is there a way to reduce water use? Have we maxed out solar? And are there internal solutions before we move to offsets that we can buy to reduce our energy use? And the answer there is yes. It does vary somewhat by country, and by the state of the green energy and green finance in those countries. Also, as you know, the government plays an important role, and of course, being in the U.S., we’ve seen a real rollback in terms of incentivizing green practices … What you don’t want as somebody in my job is to kind of be the nice people that aren’t really integrated into the business. The best thing that we can do is help the market grow so there are more alternatives for companies like ours. We don’t have to do any convincing at this point. It’s really about the level of sophistication of what we can invest in, and also kind of a deeper discussion about offsets, the quality of offsets, and where do offsets get us.  Clancy: Can you share your vision for sustainable packaging? How do things like reuse or refillable containers fit into that?  Mahon : What we’re trying to do, really, is to give the brand [presidents] the most flexibility they can to get to sustainable packaging, and while at the same time reducing plastics and reducing carbon footprint. And that’s kind of a juggling act, frankly, because in many instances it involves added cost. We have a five-year glide path for every single brand. The ability to shift from plastic to glass is easier in skincare. Makeup innovation and sustainable packaging is a new frontier, and we’re really active in that. As you likely know, the size of makeup packaging, particularly samples, is too small — it falls through the filters in the MRFs — so it’s one of the areas that we’re really focusing on now, and really inviting innovation.  Clancy: You’re very excited about forestry and forest options as a means of carbon removal. Are there any particular things you’re looking at that you can mention? Can you elaborate?  Mahon: There’s been some companies that have basically supported, through grant funds, the creation and preservation of forests. And so we are looking at that. More directly, though, we would love to have direct investment in forestry as part of our climate portfolio, and an ability to create green energy. It gets somewhat complex, but obviously, we’re a beauty company, and we don’t want to be in the business of running forests … Those are the discussions that we’re having now, and we’ve been looking at various things over the last couple of years. We don’t have anything specific. We’re basically in the due diligence phase on a couple of things. But because this moves so quickly, it doesn’t really make any sense to name names. But we would love, as a result of the article, to certainly invite both other companies who are looking at this [to talk about this and also have] a larger discussion about private/public partnerships around encouraging investment in forest preservation. We recently published a no deforestation policy, as many companies have, so there’s a nice intersectionality there between no deforestation and improving our climate component.  Clancy: I have two more questions. One is just a thread I hear often. What role will collaboration play in The Estée Lauder Companies’ strategy? What sorts of partnerships are you prioritizing?  Mahon: One of the exciting aspects of our company and our board … is we have folks who’ve worked in all different sectors. We have a lot of folks who’ve worked in government, like myself. We’ve worked in nonprofits. We’ve worked in for profits. So really, in order to move the ball down the field in a meaningful way, whether in social impact form or another form of impact, we have to basically look at this in a sector-agnostic way in which we really have company discussions about what we’re doing in climate.  What does the government bring to the table? OK, there’s tax incentives. They can give various breaks in various laws, regulatory, both the carrot and the stick. What does business bring? Well, business brings enormous amounts of business discipline of understanding markets, understanding consumer needs, understanding how to scale a solution, understanding how to, candidly, abandon a solution if it’s not selling. And then NGOs clearly bring a lot to the table in terms of advocacy.  As we’ve moved so rapidly in the for-profit sector being in favor of green energy and of strong climate solutions, the role I believe of NGOs will be more to be a bridge between government and I would say also private foundations [to come up with solutions]. For instance, in our VPPA, we will have excess green energy. Do we want to be in a position as a beauty company of selling energy, green energy? Or would we rather donate it? We’re having some conversations with the Rockefeller Foundation about, “Well, could we figure out a way where we could just donate it?” That’s where we really do need these cross-sector solutions.  Clancy: My last question is what do you feel is your most important priority as a chief sustainability officer in this moment? Mahon: At the end of the day, the great pleasure and complexity and entrepreneurism of CSO jobs is that we don’t own the P&Ls generally of the issues we need to influence. So, I would say the biggest priority really is continuing to listen to our key stakeholders with empathy, and be as responsive as we can, to try to run alongside the train of the business … A lot of what we do is obviously bring a substantive area of expertise, but also integrate as best as we can empathically to the business, and to drive value. At the end of the day, if we drive value for communities and our shareholders and our consumers, then we drive value for the business, and that is I think the great challenge … How do you sit at the table as a business person and understand and have empathy for the great demands being placed for instance on our retail team, and at the same time build climate solutions that help those retail teams, and don’t seem sort of pie in the sky and divorced from the rest of the business? Ultimately, how do we leverage the passions and the interests of our employees and our consumers and now our investors, which is great. Because that creates an unlimited path.  This article was updated on July 27, 2020, at the request of The Estée Lauder Companies to correct Mahon’s tenure in her current role, and provide more detail about some of the included commitments discussed during the interview. Where changes have been made to her verbatim comments, they are noted with brackets. Pull Quote Similar to HIV, there is a question of what [we will] make of this moment and how will we as stewards of funds or stewards of companies or stewards of our families make a difference. What you don’t want as somebody in my job is to kind of be the nice people that aren’t really integrated into the business. Topics Corporate Strategy Social Justice Corporate Social Responsibility Racial Justice Forestry Deforestation Collective Insight The GreenBiz Interview Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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The Estée Lauder Companies’ sustainability leader on racial justice, ‘sector-agnostic’ solutions

Antarctica’s seafloor is leaking methane, scientists confirm

July 23, 2020 by  
Filed under Eco, Green

For the first time, scientists have confirmed that methane leaking is from Antarctica’s sea bed. They say the  methane  is likely escaping into the atmosphere. According to the EPA, in 2018, methane accounted for about 10% of U.S. human-driven greenhouse gas emissions. But the Antarctica leak may be beyond human influence or control. Scientists believe that immense quantities of methane are stored under  Antarctica’s  seafloor. They don’t know the leak’s cause, but global warming probably isn’t to blame, since the Ross Sea has not yet warmed significantly. Related: Antarctica reaches record high temperature Decaying, thousands-of-years-old algae deposits likely create the methane. Usually, microbes consume undersea methane before it reaches the atmosphere. But the  ecosystem  around the Antarctica leak has been slow to produce the methane-eating microbes, making for an inadequate methane biofilter beneath the vast West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Current climate change models don’t allow for this lag time between seepage and microbe development, which could lead researchers to overly-optimistic conclusions. Divers first noticed the methane seep in 2011, but  scientists didn’t start investigating until 2016, studying it in detail both onsite and in the laboratory. Scientists regard the methane release from permafrost regions and frozen underwater stores as a key indicator that  global warming  can no longer be stopped. “The methane cycle is absolutely something that we as a society need to be concerned about,” said Andrew Thurber, the Oregon State University scientist who led the research. “I find it incredibly concerning.” The new research,  published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B , places the methane seep at a site called Cinder Cones in McMurdo Sound. The patch is about 70 meters long. “The delay [in microbes consuming methane] is the most important finding,” Thurber said. “It is not good news. It took more than five years for the microbes to begin to show up and even then there was still methane rapidly escaping from the  sea  floor.” + The Guardian Image via Pixabay

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Antarctica’s seafloor is leaking methane, scientists confirm

Pharrell Williams debuts The Pebble, a recyclable dining kit

July 22, 2020 by  
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Pentatonic, a circular economy company focused on removing single-use plastic products from the marketplace, partnered with acclaimed singer and outspoken opponent of single-use plastic Pharrell Williams to launch a portable dining kit made from  recycled materials.   Better known for his “Happy” music, Williams is equally passionate about finding alternatives to  single-use plastic , which is on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the estimated 20-35% increase in single-use waste, Williams has ignited the i am OTHER brand by joining forces with Pentatonic to bring The Pebble by OTHERWARE to the market.  Related: This sleek, reusable cutlery set can fit right inside your pocket The idea is simple and effective: a mobile dining kit that includes a fork, knife, spoon, straw and chopsticks. The entire set easily folds away into a compact egg or pebble that fits into a purse, backpack or briefcase for reuse,  eliminating waste . Utensils can be washed by hand while backpacking or added to the dishwasher at home. “Our team has been super concerned about the seemingly unstoppable flow of single-use plastics, especially around  food and drink . So we decided to get together with Pentatonic to do something about it, in a fresh, creative and relevant way. The goal is that the pebble makes it easy for people to take their first step towards eliminating single use plastics,” said Darla Vaughn from i am OTHER. The Pebble uses entirely recycled materials, including CDs, a nod to Williams’s other industry, and polypropylene from used food packaging. At the end of the kit’s life cycle, it can be recycled. Pentatonic will trade back the product and repurpose the materials into another product for a full zero-waste circle. While Williams brings a recognizable name to the collaboration, Pentatonic boasts noteworthy accomplishments too. The company reports that it “is the world’s leading circular economy company, which focuses upon removing the single use from consumption. It designs and manufactures high quality products as a standalone brand and in collaboration with a broad range of partners including Starbucks , Snarkitecture, Burger King, New Era, The Science Museum and Heron Preston.” And now, Pentatonic can add Williams to the list. The newly launched collection features a limited-edition yellow colorway to support YELLOW, INC., a non-profit foundation established by Williams. All i am OTHER proceeds from OTHERWARE sales will be donated to YELLOW, INC. + Pentatonic  Images via Pentatonic

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Pharrell Williams debuts The Pebble, a recyclable dining kit

What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’

July 22, 2020 by  
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What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’ Heather Clancy Wed, 07/22/2020 – 02:00 Who is responsible for emissions? Where did they originate? How can we be sure? A global coalition fronted by former Vice President Al Gore promises granular insights and data into those sources — down to individual power plants, ships or factories. Climate TRACE (short for Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) intends to use a massive worldwide network of satellite images, land- and sea-based sensors and advanced artificial intelligence to generate what it’s describing as the “most thorough and reliable data on emissions the world has ever seen.” The long lag it takes to calculate this information today is untenable if countries and the corporate sector hope to act quickly, the group wrote  in a blog about the initiative, co-authored by Gore and Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of coalition member WattTime. “From companies looking to select cleaner manufacturing suppliers, to investors seeking to divest from polluting industries, to consumers making choices about which businesses to patronize, one thing is clear: a reliable way to measure where emissions are coming from is necessary,” they wrote. “Climate TRACE will empower all of these actors.”  Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide. Climate TRACE is just the latest example of the former vice president’s decades-long commitment to educating the world about the climate crisis, through The Climate Reality Project, and to investing in technologies and solutions that could address it, through Generation Investment Manager.  Emissions monitoring using advanced technologies is something all members of the coalition have been working on for some time, but breakthroughs in software and processing technologies — as well as the will to take action more quickly than mid-decade — prompted the coalition members to step forward with the goal of making its first report before the United Nations COP26 conference in 2021. Candidly, Gore is the reason I’m on the corporate climate beat, so I was inspired by the invitation to interview him as a virtual keynote session for SEMICON West , a conference focused on members of the semiconductor industry. “There are real indications that this COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated the shift toward more sustainable technologies and as much as anything else, I would say there has been a very dramatic change in attitudes,” Gore told me at the beginning of our chat, prerecorded before the Climate TRACE announcement.   To be clear, the data isn’t encouraging. As Gore related during our conversation, 19 of the 20 hottest years “ever measured with instruments” have been in the last 20 years — and 2020 is on pace to dethrone the current record holder for hottest year on record. What’s more, Gore observes that we’re still emitting 152 million tons of heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours. The consequences of that imbalance are felt in water cycle disruptions, sea-level rises, far stronger storms and the spread of tropical diseases northward, he noted. “It’s a real horror story and since our civilization has been built up almost entirely during this climate envelope, if you will, that has persisted since the end of the last ice age, the fact that we’re changing those conditions so radically poses an existential threat to the survival of human civilization as we know it.” But advances in processing, communications and data analysis technologies give Gore hope that humans still can take meaningful action, especially with new resolve and urgency borne out of the COVID-19 crisis, Gore told me. “This can be the stimulus we need for sustainable prosperity in the wake of the pandemic as we finally come out of it, so it’s so important that this tremendous industry has awakened to this challenge and is providing tremendous leadership,” he said.   Following is a partial transcript of our conversation, which picks up after Gore’s opening remarks. The comments were edited for clarity and length.  Heather Clancy: Do you see any long-term changes emanating from the COVD-19 crisis that could help the world deliver a zero-carbon future? Are there nuggets of hope in the response that you can point to specifically? Gore:   Well, you have to go country by country, and I don’t want to dwell too much on the response here in the United States right now. I’m a recovering politician, and I don’t want to stray back into that field. The longer I go without a relapse, the less likely one becomes. But you can find examples of hope and optimism in many country’s response to the pandemic and their success should be emulated elsewhere. I’ll leave it at that. But there are many realizations that are coming from this. We now know that the burning of fossil fuels is a precondition for higher mortality rates under COVID-19. There was a study of 324 cities in China showing a linear correlation between the infection rate and the death rate from COVID-19 compared to the amount of fossil fuels burned in those locations. A Harvard study showed the same thing here in the U.S. and even if you go back to the 1918-1919 [flu] pandemic, there was a very thorough study just 18 months ago showing that the amount of coal burned in cities throughout the U.S., again, was correlated precisely with the death rate from the great flu pandemic a little over 100 years ago. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. Now we’ve already also seen with COVID-19 a rapid reduction in travel and an increase in working from home and I’m sure many of the people listening to us, Heather, have had the same experience I know you and I have had. That is thinking, “Wow, this stuff works pretty well. Maybe we don’t have to make all of those airplane flights that we have been chained to for all this time,’” and there are many other examples. There are real indications that this COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated the shift toward more sustainable technologies and as much as anything else, I would say there has been a very dramatic change in attitudes. I don’t want to sound Pollyannish, but I really believe there has been a kind of a general awakening.  The gains from the LGBTQ community of the last several years are being consolidated. The gains demanded in gender equity over the last several years are also being consolidated, and I think, again, the shocking new awareness on the part of so many of the inequities and injustices that communities of color have been experiencing for a lot of reasons. I mean, they are much more likely to be downwind from the smokestacks and downstream from the hazardous waste flows, but they also have much less access to quality healthcare. Their housing, by and large, is not the same. They don’t have the Zoom-able jobs like we do right now on average. Incomes, I mean, it takes 11.5 typical Black families, average Black families to make up the net worth of one white family, average white family in the U.S. and these statistics have remained unchanged for 50 years. We’ve got to change that, and I think there is a general increase in awareness, an awakening if you will. One jokester called it The Great Awokening. I don’t think I’ll use that phrase as my own, but I do think there is something to it. I think that the rising generation is demanding a better future, and if they knew all that you have planned and underway in this industry, they would feel so good about it. I’m going to do my part to make sure they do find out about it. Clancy: What foundational technologies do you see coming out of this moment of destruction that could really make an impact? And let’s go to the semiconductor industry. What positive developments do you see happening where they could really make a difference? Gore: Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide … These have been already essential in, well, take increasing the range of Tesla’s electric vehicles and actually that’s another mark of the change. Tesla just became the most valuable automobile company in the world, surpassing Toyota. That’s pretty impressive.  I’ll mention one more: Innovations around how semiconductors are packaged, that’s also been a prominent trend and essential in enabling the next generation of algorithms which power things like drug discovery, which has got our attention right now, and smart electricity grids which are much more power efficient. Environmental leader Al Gore. Clancy: What could get in the way of these advances? What concerns should the industry have from an environmental standpoint as they take these to the mainstream? Gore: Well, we are seeing a challenge to the efficacy of self-government. I don’t want to sound too highfalutin on this, but really here in the U.S., we have seen what can stand in our way when we pretty much know what to do and we just have to get our act together and think and act collectively to do it and when we let partisanship get out of bounds and when we don’t accept the authority of knowledge, when we tolerate an assault on reason and when we allow powerful players in the economy to embark on information strategies that are intended to put out wrong facts. I started to say alternative facts but, again, I don’t want to trip over all of those controversies. But it is a problem, seriously, and we have seen that spread to some other countries like Brazil and the Philippines and Hungary, not to mention Russia. Democracy itself is the most efficient way of making collective decisions because it allows us to harvest the wisdom of crowds. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. So I do believe that we are seeing a number of positive developments, and I do have a lot of confidence in this rising generation that is insisting that we get on with these solutions. Clancy: You referenced data centers and cloud computing services earlier, particularly for enabling things like artificial intelligence — which we need for drug discovery, we need for so many things, so many applications related to conservation and climate change. But these things use a lot of electricity. How can the tech industry address this? Gore:  New technologies, innovation efficiency — including some of the new developments that I’ve already mentioned — will help, but we’ve got to go into this with our eyes wide open. Applied Materials has told us that, has told the world that their studies indicate that we could actually see a very large increase in the amount of energy used for information processing and that makes this challenge even more urgent. But I do continue to be optimistic, very optimistic on the ability of this industry to rise to the challenge and there are some things the industry could do, and I know some of these have been discussed.  First of all, collaborate across the industry from semiconductor equipment makers to software companies with academia to think about how to deliver a step change in the efficiency of data center semiconductors. It’s been encouraging already to see cutting-edge applications of artificial intelligence to effectively reduce data server energy use by significant amounts without any changes to hardware. I’ve been following for a few years now Google’s use of its DeepMind Division to dramatically reduce energy use in server farms, again, without any new hardware. That’s awfully impressive… Now they had the advantage of a lot of structured data to work with. They’re Google, after all, so they got a lot of structured data but there are thousands of use cases where that same approach can also be used.  Secondly, reduce the electricity required to manufacture semiconductors. I’ve been amazed at the increasing amount of power required to manufacture these ever-smaller chips, and I would join with others in encouraging all of the equipment manufacturers to work together to reduce carbon emissions in the manufacturing of these advanced semiconductors and finally continue decarbonizing the power supply on which the data centers operate… Clancy: I want to go back to something you referenced in your opening remarks, which is the environmental justice issue. It’s well-documented that climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. How can the tech industry act internally and externally to change this to get rid of that digital divide that prevents progress? Gore: Well, I think first of all, this awakening that I talked about has affected people in the semiconductor industry. You look at these protest marches around the U.S. The vast majority of those marching are white and two-thirds of the American people now say they support the Black Lives Matter movement, a dramatic change compared to just two months ago. And, of course, George Floyd’s murder was a turning point but it’s also reflective of the changes that we have seen more broadly in our society. I mentioned already the fact that the communities of color are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, and there are many reasons for it. But it’s wise for every industry, particularly a cutting-edge industry like this one, to respond very effectively to the rising demands from two groups.  First, younger employees who want their work to have meaning. Many of the executives listening to us have already long since learned that when they interview the best and brightest to join their firms, they find that the job applicants are interviewing them. They want to know whether or not the company shares their views on sustainability and shares their views on diversity. I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. And, by the way, I mentioned the wisdom of crowds earlier. I don’t want to emphasize it too much, but we’ve studied that a lot at Generation, and the scholars tell us and the evidence proves that you benefit tremendously in your collective thinking from as much diversity as possible on every matrix except one.  You don’t want any diversity on values. But then if you have different life experiences, different points of view, different religious traditions, different ethnicities and all of the rest orientations, that adds to the ability of any company to make better collective decisions. And so for the tech industry, specifically, it’s long been known that this industry has work to do in order to deal with the struggle to become more racially and culturally diverse. We’ve seen software companies make some very encouraging efforts to broaden their hiring funnels through apprenticeships and scholarships, but that could probably be increased in the semiconductor industry also. Clancy: Speed is of the essence in the fight against the climate crisis. How can the tech industry and the government work together maybe like in the area of research and development but also more broadly to make the most of this moment? Gore: Well, I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. I want to encourage others to adopt and embrace a science-based target to make sure that their activities and their emissions reductions plans are in keeping with what the global scientific community, the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] says is necessary to stay below a 1.5-degree Celsius increase in temperatures. Look, this is an existential threat to our society, and I know I’ve used that phrase, but we’ve got to accept that and we have got to take leadership and make sure that we’re doing everything we can. It’s just unbearable to imagine a future generation living with the kinds of consequences the scientists tell us would ensue if we don’t solve this crisis. And imagine them looking back at us in the year 2020 and asking, “Why in the hell didn’t you do something about it? Didn’t you hear the scientists? Couldn’t you hear Mother Nature screaming at you?”  Every night on the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation, practically. We’re appropriately focused on the pandemic now, but even now we’re seeing these extreme weather events and the increasingly dire forecasts from the scientists. So I’m encouraged by this industry, and I think that the science-based targets approach is a really great step, and I’d encourage everybody to adopt them. Pull Quote Some of the innovation around new materials has been particularly impressive to me, materials like silicon carbide. I think that the Science Based Targets initiative is a particularly important initiative that can make a tremendous difference, and I want to commend the leaders in this industry who have taken that step. There is a lot of scholarship on how diversity in crowds, if it’s properly appreciated and tapped into, can make any group and any company way smarter than the smartest person in that company. Topics Climate Change Innovation Social Justice Technology Racial Justice Collective Insight The GreenBiz Interview Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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What makes Al Gore hopeful: Tech innovation, science-based targets and the racial ‘awakening’

New hydrogen production tech could reduce CO2 pollution

July 20, 2020 by  
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A recent publication in the journal Angewandte Chemie brings attention to an improved way of generating clean hydrogen . For many years, hydrogen production has proven costly to the environment, as industrial hydrogen production uses partial methane oxidation and fossil gasification. Currently,  95% of the world’s hydrogen  is produced through such methods, leading to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, producing one ton of hydrogen emits of seven tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In a recent experiment conducted by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, photo-electrochemical cells showed potential for producing pollution -free hydrogen. These cells combine a photo-absorbing gadget such as the solar panels with an electrolysis system to split water atoms and produce hydrogen gas without causing CO2 pollution. Although the concept of electrolysis is not new to hydrogen producers, the cost has always hampered this method. The most advanced system of electrolysis available involves the separation of hydrogen from water molecules through a photovoltaic current. Although the photovoltaic system has proven effective in generating hydrogen, it is expensive to maintain compared to fossil fuel-based hydrogen production. As a result, many  scientists have researched  ways to advance photovoltaic technology and reduce the costs involved. The KAUST researchers’ recent experiment may provide a glimmer of hope for this endeavor. According to Professor Hicham Idriss, the lead researcher, this discovery will significantly lower the cost of producing hydrogen through electrolysis. Contrary to the traditional photovoltaic process, the photo-electrochemical cells can absorb light to produce power that will produce hydrogen without the need for control circuits, connectors and other auxiliary tools that make the process expensive. While the experiment points in the right direction for future hydrogen production, much work is still needed. Idriss admits that the research team faced many challenges in up-scaling the system for industrial hydrogen production. Although the team is in the initial stages of testing the new technology’s viability, the process is still more expensive than fossil fuel -based hydrogen production methods. Should this new technology be adopted, hydrogen producers will have to balance economic and environmental costs. + Angewandte Chemie Via Advanced Science News Image via Pixabay

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Tracking climate data in real time

July 20, 2020 by  
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Climate TRACE, an alliance of climate research groups, is developing a new tracker using artificial intelligence that would allow the public to access international climate data in real time. They hope to have it ready to unveil at the COP26 climate change meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. The finished tracker will track all global greenhouse gases in real time. Third parties will verify the data, and the information will be available free to the public. Related: This sustainable luxury smartwatch monitors climate change “Currently, most countries do not know where most of their emissions come from,” Kelly Sims Gallagher, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told Vox . “Even in advanced economies like the United States, emissions are estimated for many sectors.” Gaining this information, she said, could help countries devise smart and effective policies to mitigate emissions and chart progress on their goals. The effort began last year, when U.S.-based WattTime , U.K.-based Carbon Tracker and some other nonprofits made a successful grant application to Google.org, which is Google’s philanthropic arm. Google gave them $1.7 million for their mission of using AI and satellite data for real-time tracking of global power plant emissions. Other nonprofits and environmental crusaders, including Al Gore, heard about the effort and became involved. Now, the Climate TRACE (which stands for Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition includes a handful of niche organizations with important things to offer. For example, Hypervine employs spectroscopic imagery to chart blasting at quarries, and OceanMind tracks global movements of ships, extrapolating carbon emissions based on engine specs. For years, the lack of accurate climate data has caused friction between countries, who waste time arguing over monitoring, reporting and verifying data. Sometimes a country later reveals that they reported inaccurate data, such as when China admitted in 2015 to underestimating coal usage by 17%. Such revelations breed suspicion between countries who need to work together to solve our climate crisis. “It will empower the people who really are interested in reducing their emissions,” Gore said of the new climate tracker. “It is extremely important for this effort to be independent and reliable, and for it to constantly improve.” + Climate TRACE Image via William Bossen

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Plastic rain is contaminating protected habitats

June 24, 2020 by  
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The term “pristine” environment is no longer applicable even to the most remote locations on Earth. Recent research has established that plastic rain is now pouring in the most protected areas in the western U.S. The research, which was published in the journal Science , reveals that 11 protected areas in the western U.S. receive rain that is contaminated with plastic microparticles. Over a period of 14 months, the researchers collected rainwater samples across 11 areas that are known to have the most pristine environments. The rainwater in these protected areas was found to be highly contaminated with plastic particles. The researchers revealed that the 11 protected areas receive over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic each year. Related: Record high amount of microplastic found on seafloors Research director and environmental scientist Janice Brahney of Utah University said, “We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total U.S. area.” Brahney’s comments indicate that plastic rain might be a much bigger problem in areas that are not protected. This research confirms a situation that is already spreading around the world. In recent years, several studies have found increasing amounts of microplastics in rainwater, especially in protected habitats, like the French Pyrenees and the Arctic . When microplastics mix with rain, they freely flow into rivers and oceans. Consequently, they affect the natural environment and the lifespan of many species. Scientists are now saying that plastic rain is a much more complex problem than acid rain. In the past few decades, the increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere resulted in acid rain in many parts of the world. Thankfully, efforts to control the emission of these gases have reduced acid rain significantly. Unfortunately, the microplastic problem is not one that can be solved overnight. We do not have a proper mechanism to trap the microplastics in the atmosphere. Even stopping the production of plastic today will only be half of the solution. To worsen the situation, the world still produces and uses plastics in large amounts. A Consultancy McKinsey publication reports that plastic waste is expected to rise from 260 million tons in 2020 to about 460 million tons in 2030. Although the research on plastic rain was only conducted in a handful of locations, it shows the gravity of the situation. If action is not taken to control the production and use of plastics, we are looking at a future where both water and air will be full of microplastics. + Science Via Wired Image via Dennis Kleine

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Snhetta completes stunning Norwegian cabins for glacier hikers

June 24, 2020 by  
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The breathtaking landscape of Luster in the western part of Norway has recently been joined by Tungestølen, a cluster of timber hiking cabins with cozy interiors and panoramic glacier views. Designed by international design firm Snøhetta for Luster Turlag, a local branch of the Norwegian National Trekking Association, the pentagonal and oblique cabins were built to replace the original Tungestølen Tourist Cabin that had been destroyed by a cyclone in 2011. The new structures are engineered for extreme wind resistance and feature sturdy glulam frames, cross-laminated timber sheeting and ore pine cladding. Perched on a small plateau overlooking the spectacular Jostedalen glacier, Tungestølen is designed to accommodate up to 50 visitors across nine cabins , each of which features a unique, beak-like shape to slow down the strong winds that sweep upward from the valley floor. The sharply pitched roofs give the buildings a playful feel and create dynamic interiors with angular and panoramic windows of varying sizes. Timber lines the light-filled interiors to create a cozy and warm atmosphere.  Related: Elevated, green-roofed cabin minimizes impact on mountain in Norway Because Tungestølen was designed with group hikers in mind, the development is centered on a main cabin that serves as a social hub and meeting spot with its spacious lounge anchored by a large, stone-clad fireplace and panoramic windows that take advantage of the building’s tall ceilings. Built-in benches and furnishings help maximize interior space, which is primarily built of unpainted timber. A restrained color palette that complements the minimalist interiors takes cues from the muted tones of nature and range from charcoal grays to mossy greens. The eight other cabins on site will be used for dormitories and include a single private unit that can accommodate 30 visitors. One of the cabins is based on the original model for the Fuglemyrhytta cabin, another hiking cabin designed by Snøhetta in Oslo that has become a huge hit among hikers since its opening in 2018. Tungestølen was officially inaugurated by Queen Sonja of Norway; the cabins open to the public in June for the hiking season, which spans summer to fall. + Snøhetta Images via Snøhetta

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Can eating cicadas solve the sustainable protein problem?

June 16, 2020 by  
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Have you ever considered eating insects as a source of protein? If your answer is no, now may be the time to reconsider. According to a  study  by the University of Copenhagen, eating insects is more sustainable than eating livestock. The same study shows that there are over 2,000 species of edible insects, though some are rare. Thankfully, some edible insects are easily available in numbers large enough to supplement global protein needs. One of the insects seen as a possible remedy for global protein needs is the cicada. Cicadas are safe to eat and among the most nutritious insects. These insects are rich in protein and can be harvested in large numbers during their breeding seasons. The argument for eating insects A shift from eating livestock to consuming insects could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.N., the global livestock industry makes up about 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Consuming fewer livestock products can thus help reduce the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment. Further, some edible insects are richer in protein than livestock protein supplies. For instance, crickets are 20 times more efficient as protein sources compared to cattle. As  The Balance SMB  reports, cricket harvesting produces 80 times less methane than cattle rearing. If we are serious about conserving the environment, now is the time to consider shifting our dietary preferences. Another reason to consider eating insects is that they thrive on organic matter and require much less food than livestock. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), insects consume just two pounds of food to produce one pound of meat. This contrasts starkly with cattle , which have to consume at least eight pounds of food to produce one pound of meat. While the conversation about eating bugs might not be an easy one, the merits outweigh the discomfort. The U.N. is now calling on meat processing firms to start considering bugs for burgers. Bug meat could easily be used in most processed foods without consumers noticing the difference. Why cicadas and why now? Cicada re-emergence has spurred the conversation about eating them. According to an  NPR publication , millions of cicadas are expected to emerge from the ground this year. In most parts of the United States, over 1.5 million cicadas per acre are expected to emerge. Regions that can expect a high influx of cicadas include southwestern Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia. The cicadas that will be emerging belong to a special brood that only shows up once every 17 years. While cicadas are not harmful to humans and do not bite, they present a different challenge. Cicadas chirp — a lot. This presents a noise problem, considering that over 1.5 million of these insects could emerge from an acre of land. According to Eric Day of  Virginia Tech Department of Entomology , the biggest concern that the people of Virginia should worry about is managing the noise. Once the insects set in, they will be busy day and night, and they are likely to cause excessive noise. This year’s cicadas come with more vigor than most annual cicadas. This special brood only appears once every 13 to 17 years. They last appeared in 2003 in parts of the eastern U.S. If you live in regions that are prone to cicadas, you can learn about their mapping by looking at this  cicada mapping site . How to eat cicadas Considering this influx of cicadas and the issues with livestock, there are many benefits to eating insects . For these reasons, more people are now shifting from mainstream protein sources to sources such as cicadas. If you have never tried eating insects, you might find the suggestion of eating cicadas absurd. However, insect-eating is not something new and is a practice that should be embraced. According to a  Live Science publication , over 2 billion people eat bugs regularly across the world. This means that about a quarter of the world already consumes insects. Given that insects are a good source of protein and considerably cheap, they provide nutrition to many people. In fact, many scientists are now looking at insects as the future of nutrition . All this considered, it may be in your best interest to try eating some bugs. If you are going to eat cicadas, here are a few tips to help you prepare and enjoy your delicious bugs. First, blanch your cicadas. Cicadas are wild insects and may come in contact with harmful microorganisms . Chefs recommend boiling cicadas for five minutes to get rid of impurities from the soil. After boiling your cicadas, dump them in a cold water bath to remove the legs and wings. If you do not mind the legs and wings, skip this step. There are many options for cooking and flavoring cicadas. For cicada scampi, place a cooking pan on medium heat and sautee the cicadas in butter, garlic and basil. Cook your cicadas for about five minutes or until they are crispy. You can also marinate cicadas if you want them juicier. Try an overnight Worcestershire sauce marinade, then sautee them for a tasty meal. Once you’ve tried cooking your cicadas, you can also prepare them as a sweet dessert. Serving them dipped in chocolate makes a great treat. The bottom line For most people who have not tried eating cicadas, this is foreign territory to explore. However, those who have tasted cicadas say they are tasty, with a nutty/earthy flavor. They cook similar to shrimp and can be consumed alongside most dishes that are normally served with white meat. If consuming cicadas can help the environment, we should all give it a thought. Cicadas are easily available and much healthier than most meat. There is nothing wrong with trying out a bug diet if it’s for the better. Images via Pixabay, Sharon Hahn Darlin , and istolethetv

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How on-demand food delivery apps could encourage low-carbon food

June 8, 2020 by  
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How on-demand food delivery apps could encourage low-carbon food Anna Zhang Mon, 06/08/2020 – 02:00 The COVID-19 crisis has affected most aspects of daily life, including how we get our food. Because the COVID-19 response has restricted restaurants to pick-up and delivery orders in many areas, business for on-demand food delivery apps such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Seamless and Uber Eats has increased dramatically.  Uber Eats claims to have experienced a tenfold increase in new restaurant signups, and some local restaurants say the percentage of orders placed through third-party apps has risen from around 20 percent to roughly 75 percent .  Even before the COVID era, food order and delivery apps were growing rapidly, and the sector was on track to more than double in value by 2025 — from $82 billion in 2018 to $200 billion by 2025. Projections showed that by 2023 about one-quarter of smartphone users , or 14 million Americans, will use these apps.  For the environmentally minded, the increased adoption of app-based food delivery services presents a unique opportunity to affect carbon emissions in the food supply chain. One of the leading climate change solutions is the widespread adoption of a plant-rich diet, particularly in countries with a more “Western” diet. Adopting these habits has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 66 gigatonnes CO2-equivalent, according to Project Drawdown. Compared to business as usual, choosing vegan options could reduce emissions by as much as 70 percent . Third-party food delivery apps offer a valuable opportunity to connect consumers to the knowledge they need to adopt a climate-friendly diet.  We believe that food delivery apps can implement some basic features to help consumers be more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices. While systematic change in food production at all levels is necessary to achieve goals for carbon emission reductions, influencing consumer behavior to shift towards low-carbon food options has the power to simultaneously encourage food producers up the supply chain to reduce the carbon impact of their offerings, while also empowering consumers to reduce their own personal carbon footprints. A recent study in Science magazine noted that “dietary change can deliver environmental benefits on a scale not achievable by producers.” However, a major roadblock is the lack of transparency surrounding the carbon impacts of food.  Many consumers recognize that animal products have some negative impact on the planet, yet most don’t truly know the extent to which meat consumption can drastically increase carbon emissions.  Indeed, according to a recent study by the Yale Center on Climate Change Communications, about half of surveyed Americans (51 percent) would be willing to eat a more plant-based, low-carbon diet if they had more information about how their food choices affected the environment. Through a six-week climate innovation program at Yale , we envisioned two ways that on-demand food delivery apps could empower their users to make more climate-friendly food choices. We based our idea off a successful project at Yale demonstrating the effectiveness of environmental impact ratings on consumers — in this case, students at Yale’s dining halls. Rate the Plate is an initiative designed by current Yale students through which dining halls display posters containing the calculated range estimates for the amount of carbon emissions from each available entree. After running both a small-scale pilot and then expanding to all Yale residential colleges, the organizers had students complete a survey to analyze the effectiveness of the posters and ratings. The results show that 62 percent of students had a positive response when asked if they reconsidered their food choices after seeing the ratings.  Additionally, when asked if they would like to continue seeing the environmental impact posters in the dining halls, more than 86 percent of students said yes.  The results of this project inspired us to consider other ways to empower consumers to make climate-friendly food choices. We believe that food delivery apps can implement some basic features to help consumers be more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices.  First, food order and delivery companies can create short monthly quizzes for users to test their knowledge about the carbon impacts of various food options. An interactive, visually appealing quiz can inform consumers about how their own food choices can affect the planet as a whole. Positive messaging alongside discounts or other incentives can encourage users to take the quizzes and act on the information they learn.  For example, online consignment retailer ThredUp already runs an online quiz that consumers can take to determine their environmental impacts in the apparel sector. Additionally, companies could implement carbon labeling within their order menu interface. There are various existing methods to estimate and label the carbon emissions associated with food dishes, but a simple number or range of carbon equivalents would allow consumers to compare meal options within the app.  Using color coding or symbols such as trees to indicate high- and low-carbon footprint items also would be a non-obtrusive way to represent the information. The methodology could be explained in one of the quizzes released each month so consumers feel that they have both easy-to-read and accurate data. Order and delivery apps could include discounts for consumers opting into low-carbon food selections. What’s in it for companies such as DoorDash and Snackpass?  Companies would be able to analyze the data on these strategies to fulfill internal corporate sustainability metrics on reducing GHG emissions, and such information could be advertised to demonstrate the company’s drive and success in sustainability compared to competing apps.  There is growing demand for sustainable business practices and purchasing options, especially among younger consumers . Being known as a climate-friendly option in the food-delivery ecosystem likely will be a selling point for many companies. If food delivery apps implemented these various features, tracking the environmental impact would be relatively straightforward because it relies on digital technology and data collection. By looking at the number of people taking the carbon-impact quiz every month, companies could get a sense of the reach of these efforts among their customers. Eventually, they also could use the consumer order data to look for significant shifts in the carbon impacts of dishes people order.  What’s the role for restaurants?  While the relationships between restaurants and food delivery apps sometimes can be contentious , restaurants could benefit from advertising themselves as a climate-friendly option.  Restaurants would provide information about the ingredients lists of their dishes, allowing food delivery apps to calculate carbon impacts. As previously mentioned, discounts are offered to consumers who take the food carbon quizzes, which can help restaurants draw in new customers as well as highlight some of their vegan and vegetarian options. Ideally, there would be a shift towards vegetable-based options and away from meat-heavy dishes after the carbon ratings and quizzes are implemented, which would demonstrate a positive impact on consumer decisions in terms of carbon emissions. This data from before and after the intervention also could be used to create a baseline to calculate how many kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided due to lower demand for meat-heavy dishes.  As food-delivery apps continue to gain popularity over the next decade, integrating information about the climate impact of food options has the potential to address the large impact the food-supply chain has on carbon emissions. This information gives consumers power in their food choices and allows food-delivery apps to demonstrate climate-friendly values. Pull Quote We believe that food delivery apps can implement some basic features to help consumers be more aware of the environmental impact of their food choices. Contributors Tracy Zhou Luke Browne Abbey Warner Topics Food Systems Innovation Technology E-commerce Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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