Is COVID-19 slowing progress toward the SDGs? Yes, say experts.

March 30, 2021 by  
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Is COVID-19 slowing progress toward the SDGs? Yes, say experts. Tove Malmqvist Tue, 03/30/2021 – 01:00 As we move into a crucial decade of action on achieving serious progress on sustainability, many are hoping the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession will serve to reset our priorities toward a greener future in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, many experts are not optimistic about the possibility of a green recovery. Over half of sustainability professionals believe that COVID-19 instead will slow the rate of progress toward achieving the SDGs, according to a new report,  Evaluating Progress on the SDGs , by GlobeScan and The SustainAbility Institute by ERM . Findings from the research also show that sustainability practitioners continue to report poor progress toward each of the 17 goals, as well as on sustainable development overall. Nearly 500 experienced sustainability professionals in 75 countries were asked to evaluate the progress that has been made, on sustainable development overall and on each SDG; to rank the relative urgency of each goal; and to share insights into the priorities within their own organizations. Experts also were asked how the pandemic will affect progress on the SDGs. The survey also tracked expert opinions polled in 2017 and 2019. Sustainability practitioners report poor progress toward each of the 17 goals, as well as on sustainable development overall. When asked to rate the progress to date on the overall transition to sustainable development, more than half of sustainability experts (54 percent) say progress has been poor, with most remaining respondents giving neutral ratings (41 percent). Only 4 percent are satisfied with society’s achievements so far. Those who have the most negative views on progress tend to work in the academic and research sector, with European experts being the most negative. Negative expert perceptions of our collective sustainability efforts so far are also apparent in their assessments of progress on individual SDGs, with majorities rating achievements as poor on 10 of the 17 Goals. Life Below Water (Goal No. 14), Reduced Inequalities (No. 10), Life on Land No. 15) and No Poverty (No. 1) are seen by experts as the SDGs where society’s level of achievement has lagged the most. Proportions of seven in 10 or higher see progress in these areas as being poor — particularly on Reduced Inequalities. In contrast, only around one-third of experts believe that there has been poor progress on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (No. 9) and Partnership for the Goals (No. 17). Sustainability experts tend to believe that several goals where progress has been the most unsatisfactory are also the most urgent, which is a cause for some concern. When asked to assess which goals require the most urgent action, experts overwhelmingly choose Climate Action (No. 13) — a goal that fewer than one in 10 experts say we have made good progress on achieving. Reduced Inequalities, the goal with the lowest overall score in terms of our collective progress, also ranked as one of the most important areas for action — along with Life on Land and Responsible Consumption and Production (No. 12). The perceived urgency of Reduced Inequalities has increased compared to 2019 in the wake of the pandemic, highlighting the unequal impact experienced by poorer countries as well as more vulnerable populations within countries. Within their own work and organizations, sustainability professionals are most likely to be addressing Climate Action; almost half of experts surveyed (44 percent) and more than half of corporate sustainability professionals (52 percent) say this is one of the SDGs receiving the most attention within their own organizations or work. Climate Action is prioritized by respondents across most sectors and regions except the academic and research sector and among those based in Africa and the Middle East, both of which focus more on Quality Education (No. 4). Far fewer (6 percent) say they focus their work on Reduced Inequalities, despite the relative parallel urgency of this secondary issue. Other goals that are mainly overlooked include No Poverty, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (No. 16), and Zero Hunger (No 2). The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have further dampened experts’ views on our collective progress on the SDGs. Around one-third of those surveyed say that the pandemic will serve to accelerate headway on achieving the goals, perhaps placing their hope in the potential of Green New Deals or renewed faith in our potential to collectively solve great challenges such as developing vaccines to save humanity. But over half instead believe that the pandemic and its economic impacts will further slow our already dismal progress. Experts in the service and media sector are more optimistic about the potential impact of the pandemic, whereas respondents in the academic and research and NGO sectors, along with those based in Latin America and in Africa and the Middle East, are most prone to pessimism — possibly reflecting the limited resources available in many markets that may be directed away from long-term sustainability priorities to cover more immediate needs. This diversion from the SDGs toward other more immediate issues resulting from the pandemic and its economic impacts should be of great concern to all. At this crucial point in time, we need to ensure that our collective efforts on sustainable development are not only maintained but accelerated. Pull Quote Sustainability practitioners report poor progress toward each of the 17 goals, as well as on sustainable development overall. Topics Commitments & Goals Sustainable Development Goals / SDGs 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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Is COVID-19 slowing progress toward the SDGs? Yes, say experts.

Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice

March 30, 2021 by  
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Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice Breanna Draxler Tue, 03/30/2021 – 00:05 The term “urban forest” may sound like an oxymoron. When most of us think about forests, we may picture vast expanses of tall trunks and dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves, far from the busyness of the city. But the trees that line city streets and surround apartment complexes across the U.S. hold great value, in part because of their proximity to people. “Per tree, you’re getting way more value for an urban tree than a tree out in the wild,” said Mark McPherson, founder and director of a Seattle nonprofit called City Forest Credits. In an increasingly urbanizing world, cities are, after all, “right where people live and breathe and recreate.” Trees — and urban trees in particular — provide enormous benefits. For starters, they’re responsible for producing oxygen and removing CO2 and other pollutants from the air. Urban forests in the U.S. remove an estimated 75,000 tons of air pollution per year . They reduce the impact of falling rain and encourage that water to soak into the ground, reducing flooding and erosion as well as preventing pollution from entering waterways . And the shade they provide isn’t just good for picnics; trees absorb heat and release water vapor that cools the surrounding air. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that trees reduce the energy consumption needed to cool homes in the U.S. by more than 7 percent. To find out just how much one tree can do, you can even estimate the value of the benefits of a specific tree near you using a calculator developed by a collaboration of tree experts and nonprofits. The trouble is that these benefits are not equitably distributed. “Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth,” said Leslie Berckes, director of programs for Trees Forever, a nonprofit environmental group that works with communities across Iowa and Illinois to plant and care for trees. She said wealthier communities tend to have more trees for a variety of reasons, including racist housing practices. “Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space, less tree cover,” Berckes said. And the results are life-threatening. In the absence of trees, these urban areas tend to be concrete — either buildings or sidewalks or streets. These impervious surfaces absorb heat during the day and then release it at night, preventing the relief of cooling temperatures and creating urban heat islands . “People are getting sick or dying from heat,” Berckes said, “and their utility bills are going up. … Heat is the biggest killer from [a] natural disaster perspective.” Building community by planting trees To better support the health of these communities, Berckes’ organization employs local teenagers to plant and care for trees. Trees Forever pays a starting rate of $10 an hour — higher than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 — and then bumps it up to $15 an hour for crew leaders. In addition, Trees Forever provides teens with professional development resources such as resume-building, mock interviews, financial literacy courses, stress management tools and shadowing professionals in green jobs. Although COVID-19 has paused some of these activities, the organization sees this multifaceted support as an investment in a local workforce that will then have the knowledge and skills to continue the important work of tree-planting for building healthier communities. Dawud Benedict, 18, has been planting trees with Trees Forever since the fall. He applied after hearing about a friend’s positive experience working with the organization. “It just sounded nice to do something more for Des Moines area,” he said. The work has taught him to appreciate trees and their benefits to the community and the world, he says, as well as to work together as a group. He enjoys being able to drive past work sites and point out trees that he helped plant in his community. “I feel like I’m making a bigger impact,” he said. In recent years, Trees Forever has endeavored to put equity at the center of their work through training and education, although Berckes admits that a lot more work must be done. “Our own staff is all white,” she said. “Iowa is a predominantly white state. When we go to work with some of these small towns, I bet the percentage of white people is 80 to 90-or-more percent.” Much of the group’s outreach historically has focused on door-knocking and connecting with groups such as neighborhood associations, churches and local businesses. But Trees Forever’s traditional methods weren’t reaching Hispanic residents who moved to these communities to work in the meatpacking industry. So to make access to the benefits of urban trees more equitable, the organization is working to overcome language barriers and meet these community members where they are. West Des Moines is home to three Microsoft data centers and two more are slated for construction starting in 2021. In the corporation’s efforts to invest in communities that house its data centers, it funded Trees Forever’s work in 2019. And in 2020, the collaborative piloted a project that promises to put equity first. The project, the Impact Scorecard, is being rolled out in West Des Moines as well as Phoenix. The creator of the scorecard, Mark McPherson, said Microsoft was looking for high-impact projects and his organization, City Forest Credits, developed a way to measure the impacts of trees on equity, human health and the environment. Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth. Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space. “As a society, we have not found a way to put natural capital on the balance sheet as an asset,” he said. “There’s no asset value to the trees; only an expense item.” As such, trees necessarily fall to the bottom of many city’s budgets, or off of them altogether. “Urban trees don’t just store carbon, they reduce stormwater, they improve air, they provide energy savings in terms of heating and cooling. They can, if done right, tremendously advance environmental justice — they provide human health benefits, biodiversity, bird and pollinator habitat, slope stability and the list goes on. They are like utilities,” McPherson said. “They provide incredible services.” Those services are immensely valuable to cities. They reduce the costs of doing all kinds of other work, including stormwater management, air purification and water retention. Sure, some carbon markets put a dollar value on capturing CO2. But the problem, McPherson found, was that carbon markets couldn’t capture any values of urban forests specifically. Carbon credits typically are sold by the ton for huge acreages of forest. In the city, an individual tree won’t store enough carbon to make a blip on these particular charts, but it has incredible value for countless lives. So he teamed up with his older brother, Greg McPherson, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Forest Service who founded the Center for Urban Forest Research. In the ’90s, he moved to Chicago to figure out how to quantify the value of the services that trees provide to the city and he continues to refine benefit-cost analyses for trees. The Impact Scorecard is the latest outcome of this work. It aims to get corporations and other private funders to underwrite the costs of doing important community-led work through the planting of urban forests. “That’s a critical part of environmental justice,” explains Mark McPherson, who, as a white man, said he works hard to avoid the tropes of white saviorism. “Not just, you beam in from your NGO office and plant trees,” but rather “to actually have these projects led by the local community.” Letting communities lead That’s what drives the work of Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative. This partnership brings together 14 organizations — from the Morton Arboretum to the U.S. Forest Service, the Chicago Parks Department to the Chicago Department of Public Health — to leverage resources and expertise in support of the urban forest in and around Chicago. She said trees can help reduce crime, improve property values and reduce temperatures. To let communities lead, though, members of the initiative had to be willing to listen. Some neighborhoods, for example, didn’t want trees or actively removed them to prevent obstructing street lights because of safety concerns. Police departments, too, sometimes cite a need for open lines of sight on sidewalks and in parks. “This was an eye-opener for us,” Scott said. It all comes down to having the right tree in the right place. That’s why her organization works within communities to show the value of trees and evidence of the ways trees can support a different dynamic. But unlike a forest on public lands or a reservation, urban forests can’t be managed as a whole. Urban areas are a mix of public and private lands, so to plant trees requires the buy-in of a greater number of stakeholders. “We know trees have a dramatic impact on quality of life,” Scott said. They are critical infrastructure in communities and should be protected and budgeted as such, she said, but they are rarely recognized for the value and services they provide. All too often she hears that “trees are a luxury we handle after everything else.” With COVID-19, being outside is more important than ever and people are seeing and appreciating trees in a whole new way. But in some ways the work is made harder, Scott said. City budgets are tight and meeting basic needs such as housing and safety is necessarily taking priority. Measuring impact Here’s where the scorecard comes in. It matches communities who want to invest in their tree cover with private funders, such as corporations who want to make investments that have a measurable impact. That impact is broken down into three categories that emphasize the value of urban trees specifically: equity; human health; and environmental benefits. McPherson said that urban forests are unique because they connect global atmospheric benefits with ecosystem benefits and resilience and mitigation benefits. “Very seldom do you get a climate action that fits all of those,” he said. To look at the benefits of trees at scale, the Chicago Region Trees Initiative developed a map that breaks it down by neighborhood , indicating the percentage of land covered by impervious surfaces, the percentage of tree cover and the financial benefit those trees provide the community. It also includes location-specific information on air quality, heat, flooding and vulnerable populations. Screenshot from the Chicago Region Trees  interactive map page . Take, for example, the La Grange Park area of south Chicago. It has 47 percent tree cover and 30 percent impervious surfaces. The calculator estimates the community gains more than $750,000 a year from these trees. In contrast, Bedford Park, just to the south, has only 7 percent tree cover and 59 percent impervious surfaces. Their benefit from these trees is $300,000. But the calculator also estimates that the community could reasonably boost that tree canopy to as much as 65 percent of the neighborhood’s land area — a ninefold increase — which would also up their benefits. Scott said the priority communities don’t always track exactly on racial or socioeconomic lines. In fact, the two neighborhoods with the fewest trees, according to their assessment, were actually quite well-off financially, so the initiative decided to focus its efforts elsewhere. These communities have the resources available to make change but choose not to. Instead, the initiative is prioritizing projects that put health and equity at the center. An assessment of educational facilities, for example, identified a list of 24 schools and 24 day cares in Chicago within 500 feet of an expressway. The initiative is doing air-quality testing and planting vegetative buffers as a means of improving air quality at each facility. (A 2013 study found that adding a row of trees between a roadway and nearby houses reduced pollution levels in the houses by 50 percent.) By using the Impact Scorecard, funders have third party verification of the health, equity and environmental benefits of the project. “The trees in our neighborhoods tell a story about our society — one of equity,” McPherson said. The story we’re trying to craft, he said, is one in which living in a city is healthy, equitable and connected with nature. Pull Quote Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth. Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space. Topics Social Justice Environmental Justice Tree Planting Yes! Magazine Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Urban forests can be an indicator of equality in cities.  Getty Images Jose Luis Pelaez Close Authorship

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Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice

Our grid isn’t ready for climate change

February 19, 2021 by  
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Our grid isn’t ready for climate change Sarah Golden Fri, 02/19/2021 – 01:30 Last summer, when 750,000 Californians experienced rolling blackouts as heatwaves overtook the west, some politicians in Texas took the opportunity to blame liberal policies to explain the outages.  California’s politicians did this, not the heat. https://t.co/wft1kFsHfX — Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) September 6, 2020 California is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity. Biden/Harris/AOC want to make CA’s failed energy policy the standard nationwide. Hope you don’t like air conditioning! https://t.co/UkKBq9HkoK — Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 19, 2020 This week, as ice storms overtook Texas and plunged more than 4.4 million people into freezing darkness, some Californians on Twitter were gleefully dunking on those same Texas politicians for not keeping electricity flowing during their extreme weather events.  I get it. I understand the tribalism of politics. But at this moment, millions of Americans are freezing without power — with no end in sight. It is horrifying and beyond politics. Energy resilience, like climate change, is not partisan. It will affect every community and statehouse, regardless of who is in charge. The battle is not between liberal and conservative states. It is between those working towards a clean, affordable resilient energy future and the politicians and incumbent energy providers that politicize it.  The grid isn’t ready for climate change While the grid is designed to handle spikes in energy demand, reliability is dependent on the ability for operators to predict future supply and demand conditions.  The week’s cold snap affected both: Texans (with power) were cranking up their thermostats at the same time as gas-fired, coal and nuclear facilities were knocked offline amid the icy conditions.  Making matters worse, the Texas transmission lines weren’t up for the challenge. So, regardless of the energy source, grid disruptions will continue as long as we rely on a grid built for a 20th-century climate. “The situation in Texas could have happened anywhere,” said Mahesh Sudhakaran, chief digital officer for the energy, environment and utilities sector at IBM, in an email. “It exposed the importance of grid resiliency, which is something that impacts us all.” Is renewable energy to blame for the Texas power crisis?

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Our grid isn’t ready for climate change

Lessons from 3 emerging bio-based material technologies

February 19, 2021 by  
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Lessons from 3 emerging bio-based material technologies Suz Okie Fri, 02/19/2021 – 00:40 Creating human-made materials from living or biological sources is by no means a new development, yet newly invented bio-based materials are garnering significant hype as of late. From electronic displays made from fish scales to sanitary products made from banana fibers, these inspiring innovations can capture human imagination and evoke an aspirational future free of toxins and litter, amongst other environmental improvements.  But these materials do more than strike awe and inspiration. According to WBCSD’s recent report on the circular bioeconomy, bio-based products will represent a $7.7 trillion opportunity by 2030.  To better understand these headline-grabbing materials, I followed up with three emerging bio-based products from a Circularity 20 panel exploring bio-utilization and the opportunities bio-based materials afford. Here’s what I uncovered. Turning mycelium into packaging that’s ‘compatible with the planet’ Founded in 2007, New York based Ecovative Design leverages the naturally binding properties of mycelium — mushroom’s root structure — in several sustainable materials. The company’s first technology, MycoComposite, precipitated the subsidiary Mushroom Packaging , which I discussed with Ecovative’s business development lead, Meghan Olson. According to WBCSD’s recent report on the circular bioeconomy, bio-based products will represent a $7.7 trillion opportunity by 2030. Offering an alternative to polystyrene, polypropylene and other protective or insulating packaging, Mushroom Packaging infuses locally sourced agricultural byproducts (such as hemp hurd or rice hulls) with mushroom spores. The mixture is filled into custom shaped packaging molds, designed in collaboration with their clients, and the mycelium is allowed to take form. After seven days in its facilities, the grown result is a nontoxic, fully home- and marine-compostable material that protects and insulates a variety of products — everything from candles to industrial servers.  Mushroom Packaging is growing its footprint with a global network of licensees from New Zealand to the United Kingdom and beyond — expanding its customer base to include cosmetics retailer Lush and even interior designers. Meanwhile, Ecovative Design continues to research new applications for its mushroom technology portfolio in New York, expanding beyond packaging into textile alternatives and vegan meat substitutes.  Turning algae into straws that are ‘designed to disappear’ Loliware was founded in 2016 in pursuit of “a radical leap towards [a sustainable packaging] future.” Its interdisciplinary team is based on the east coast of the United States and combines expertise in food technology, seaweed biology, polymer engineering and even fashion to create “not just the material, but also the feeling of the brand.” As co-founder and CEO Sea Briganti notes, “You can’t build what you can’t imagine, so a lot of our work is helping people imagine this new future so we can all build it together.” Sourcing algae from sustainable seaweed farmers that capture carbon as they grow their crop, Loliware is working to manufacture a variety of bio-based polymers. The end products are (technically) edible tableware replacements that naturally break down within six to 10 days in home composting, and even faster in the ocean.  With a B2B strategy, Loliware is building a portfolio of partners — including Marriott, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Pernod Ricard — to distribute its straws. Although the pandemic has disrupted hospitality and demand, Loliware has used the lull to advance its technology and scale manufacturing with a mission to overturn legacy plastics. Turning pineapple leaves into textiles that benefit ‘people and planet’   Following a consulting assignment with the Design Center of the Philippines, self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” Carmen Hijosa was determined to find (or invent) an alternative to leather and the negative impacts that came with it. By 2013, following several years of studying, research and development, Hijosa had a Ph.D., a new material in tow, and had founded London-based  Ananas Anam . You can’t build what you can’t imagine, so a lot of our work is helping people imagine this new future so we can all build it together. Leveraging pineapple leaves, a waste product of the pineapple industry, Ananas Anam uses a low-energy, low-water, chemical-free process to convert the leaves’ natural fibers into a leather-like material called Piñatex. Producing just 2.69 kilograms of carbon per meter of material, Piñatex touts carbon saving benefits as the equivalent volume of reclaimed pineapple waste would emit about 8 kilograms of carbon if it were left to decompose or burn in the fields.  Piñatex can be found in the footwear, fashion and furnishings of more than 3,000 clients , ranging from small-scale designers to large-scale apparel companies such as H&M and Hugo Boss. As Ananas Anam grows, so do its social and sustainability efforts as it further builds a Philippines-based supply chain and promotes local culture and resilience.  While these companies represent wholly different applications and biological sources, they share several instructive commonalities about the current state of bio-based materials.  They can functionally compete with legacy materials  Touting benefits such as “carbon-negative,” “biodegradable” and/or “sustainably sourced,” it’s hardly surprising that bio-based materials frequently outcompete legacy alternatives on environmental impact. Beyond these sustainability claims, however, eco-friendly or bio-based products are often perceived as less effective than their synthetic counterparts.  That’s why Briganti of Loliware knew her product “had to be a 1:1 replacement” when it came to performance. Loliware, Ecovative Designs and Ananas Anam have all invested heavily in ensuring (and proving) that their products are as functional as the legacy product they might replace.  Mushroom Packaging promises comparable if not superior strength, insulation and hydrophobic properties to polystyrene. Ananas Anam follows stringent technical specifications to meet its clients’ exacting standards, ensuring a durable material that can take wear and tear comfortably for at least five years. And mechanical testing has shown Loliware’s straw durability is on par with its plastics counterpart, while outperforming PLA — Polylactic Acid, a bioplastic — and paper straws. The flexibility of plastic straws is a bit more challenging to replicate, but R&D is under way to do just that.  They can be cost-competitive too, with some caveats Competing on cost, perhaps the most elusive metric, is also in reach according to these companies. As Hijosa notes, Piñatex being sold in rolls can save clients up to 30 percent of the waste associated with the odd shapes, scratches and tears of leather hides, allowing for a comfortably comparable price point.  As Mushroom Packaging is grown (without the need for tooling, molding or post-processing) Olsen shared that prices are competitive with molded polystyrene and molded paper pulp on smaller volume orders (while struggling to match-up when orders surpass 500,000 units.) “Low- to medium-volume sized orders are actually best for our process… [that’s why] we like working with smaller brands and growing with our customers,” Olsen said.  Finally, early 2021 will see the launch of Loliware’s 2.0 polymer, which Briganti said will allow it to compete with paper straw pricing. Although it admittedly can’t match virgin plastic prices, Briganti will be the first to note “the true price of plastic is not reflected in the price of the product — the price to clean it up, the price to our wildlife, our fisheries… our children and the next generation.”  They can offer local sourcing benefits All three companies’ manufacturing happens in close proximity to the farmers from which they source — whether it’s Loliware near its seaweed sources in Connecticut, Ananas Anam setting up fiber processing facilities near pineapple farms in the Philippines, or Mushroom Packaging working to source locally abundant biomass — i.e. mushroom food — within 500 miles of its production facilities.  Beyond local, they also prioritize sustainability. Loliware has sought out “the most sustainable farms in the blue ocean economy” and partnered with Greenwave , a regenerative seaweed farming nonprofit. In the cases of Mushroom Packaging and Piñatex, their biological source is considered an agricultural byproduct or waste. By purchasing it, they not only provide an added revenue stream for their farmers but also ensure the would-be waste isn’t sent to landfills, burnt or left to rot in the field. We’re actually in complete union in caring for people and planet. All stakeholders are important to us, not just shareholders. As a certified B-Corp, Ananas Anam also prioritizes transparency, local employment and training. “We’re actually in complete union in caring for people and planet. All stakeholders are important to us, not just shareholders,” Hijosa said. With that in mind, Ananas Anam partners with small farming cooperatives, ensuring all employees in their supply chain enjoy full contracts and fair wages.  They can help regenerate ecosystems By sourcing carbon-capturing, regenerative seaweed, Loliware is helping to rebuild and regenerate marine ecosystems on the Eastern Shore in the U.S.  Beyond displacing 2 million pounds of legacy foam annually, Mushroom Packaging is not just biodegradable, it’s also “bio-contributing,” adding nutrients to any soil it decomposes in. For this reason Olson says you can “feel good” about throwing it in your backyard.   After saving water and energy in its fiber processing, Ananas Anam uses excess biomass to create compost and add nutrients back to its farmers’ soil. By 2023, it’ll have enough biomass to profitably create local energy with an anaerobic converter.  They have requests Given the size of the legacy industries they compete with, these companies represent a relatively narrow market share. With new supply chains to build, customer habits to overturn and cost caveats that sometimes equate to higher price points, it’s important to note they face significant hurdles to substantively scale. With that in mind, I asked what they’d wish for to advance their companies and the bio-based material industry at large. The three women I spoke with had varying, but valuable requests for what comes next.  Olson would like consumer demand to continue to push out and displace more environmentally destructive, single-use options on the market. Briganti hopes legislation and regulation will take a more active role not just in the market, but also in supporting and funding entrepreneurs and innovators. Finally, Hijosa would like to see more integrity, transparency, and responsibility across the supply chain. Here’s hoping they get their wishes.  Pull Quote According to WBCSD’s recent report on the circular bioeconomy, bio-based products will represent a $7.7 trillion opportunity by 2030. You can’t build what you can’t imagine, so a lot of our work is helping people imagine this new future so we can all build it together. We’re actually in complete union in caring for people and planet. All stakeholders are important to us, not just shareholders. Topics Circular Economy Biomaterials Innovation Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off From left to right: close up images of mushrooms, pineapple and seaweed, sources of bio-based products, which will represent a $7.7 trillion opportunity by 2030.

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Lessons from 3 emerging bio-based material technologies

5 cool measurement tools attempting to quantify regenerative agriculture

February 11, 2021 by  
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5 cool measurement tools attempting to quantify regenerative agriculture Jesse Klein Thu, 02/11/2021 – 00:05 Many practices are associated with regenerative agriculture — anything from no-till practices to pesticide-free farming. What’s more, the concept means different things for different crops in different regions. What is considered regenerative in one location might not qualify for the same label under other agricultural conditions.  It’s clear the food and agriculture sector needs to start defining regenerative agriculture specifically and measuring it quantitatively — it’s essential for the concept to scale. Some practitioners and regenerative ag pioneers are piloting new technologies to help with that process. These new tools — under development or in the early phases of testing — are helping put numbers to the abstract concept of regenerative agriculture and helping measure metrics such as biodiversity, carbon sequestration and other soil health considerations.  Following is a list of five emerging options, focused on two primary concerns, measuring biodiversity on agricultural land and gauging soil health and carbon levels.  An image of an insect used in Ecdysis’ AI recognition software//Courtesy of Ecdysis  1. Quantifying insect diversity using AI  Ecdysis is building an insect database that will use artificial intelligence to identify insect species and extrapolate the population of each species on a farm. The nonprofit, based in South Dakota, got off the ground with a crowdfunding campaign and now pays the bills with a combination of donations, foundation money and competitive and corporate grants. The 11 team members, four of which have Ph.D.s, are working with General Mills’s regenerative agriculture pilot to build up and verify its library of insects.  “Insect diversity actually scales really well and is a good indicator of profits, of soil carbon, of soil, of water,” said Jonathan Lundgren, director of Ecdysis. “We can use them as bioindicators because insects are a great responder, they’re so sensitive to what’s going on in a habitat. Just by taking the snapshot, you can tell an awful lot about the health of that environment.” Ecdysis asks farmers or people involved with regenerative agriculture projects to use a butterfly net and take 50 sweeps of the air near their wheat or oat fields to collect a sample of insects to send to Ecdysis as live samples or as photos. Then Ecdysis uses those photos to train its artificial intelligence system to identify the insects and model out the population. It then compares the insect population to other regenerative agriculture indicators taken on the farm, such as carbon soil levels and pest outbreaks.  Once the image recognition database is ready next year, Ecdysis says it will be ready to start predicting all the factors that affect a farm.  The hand-held probe is connected to a hand drill.//Courtesy of Yard Stick. 2. Measuring soil carbon levels with a handheld probe Chris Tolles, CEO of Yard Stick , is working with Christine Morgan, a principal investigator at the Soil Health Institute , to create a handheld soil probe that measures carbon levels with LCDs and pressure sensors. The original probe was so large it had to be mounted on the back of a truck. Tolles’ company, Yard Stick, is miniaturizing the technology so it can be used with a simple handheld drill and creating a commercial business to support the product.  The tip of the probe is a small camera that uses wavelengths to sense the presence of organic carbon the way our eyes sense the presence of blue when looking at the sky. The resistance sensors on the probe calculated the density of the soil. With those two inputs, Yard Stick says it can calculate the amount of carbon sequestered in a particular area of soil.  These new tools are helping put numbers to the abstract concept of regenerative agriculture. Right now, the company is working on verifying the accuracy of the soil probe by comparing its data to the traditional method of measuring carbon in soil, dry combustion. Using the latter technique, a sample of soil is burned to indicate the amount of carbon stored within it.  “That’s not scalable,” Tolles said. “The incineration of things at thousands of degrees, people trudging through fields, scooping up soil and putting in the mail. [Yard Stick] can take samples way faster, we can take more samples per field, the cost is dramatically lower, there are no consumables, we’re not shipping anything so you’ll get a more accurate measurement of your carbon stock.”  Yard Stick, based near Boston, plans to have a commercial product ready for sale by 2022 and is partnered with large industrial food companies to connect the probe to U.S. farmers for testing.  These satellite maps are used to monitor crop and soil health//Courtesy of Applied GeoSolutions . 3. Mapping soil health with satellite data and remote sensors Using satellite data publicly available from National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the European Space Agency, along with specialized algorithms, Dagan is monitoring the landscape to map adoption of conservation practices and soil health management.  Its platform can monitor tillage practice, cover crop planting and rotational crop-growing methods, and track soil residue dynamics — how the materials left on the surface decay. A model created at the University of New Hampshire predicts how those agriculture management practices map to greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient cycling.  Dagan, a startup based in New Hampshire, was spun off from Applied Geosolutions and supplies the agriculture sector with data services to recommend regenerative agriculture practices and track the results. It was able to create a system that can calculate the emissions and soil health without on-the-ground baseline reference data usually needed for projects such as these. And it is working on a way to calculate biomass. “We can create not only maps where cover crops have been adopted, but actually information on cover crop performance,” said William Salas, interim CEO of Dagan. “How well the cover crop establishes will influence the nutrient loss, sediment and nutrient uptake, as well as the amount of biomass to cover crops achieves because that is organic matter going back into the soil.” Dagan is working with The Nature Conservancy and the Ecosystem Service Market , whose members include food partners such as Mars and Nestle.  Microphones tuned to bird sound allowed researchers to dramatically increase the amount of data on bird diversity. //Courtesy of John Quinn. 4. Evaluating bird diversity with microphones Imagine standing in a field 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, pressing record every hour for a five-minute audio sample of the bird noise. In some ways, that’s the dream job of John Quinn, associate professor of biology at Furman University. But Wildlife Acoustics , the 18-year-old Massachusetts-based company, created the next best thing: a programmable, weatherproof recorder that does just that. “Instead of me having to drive 9,000 miles to visit all these sites, multiple times, I can put the recorder out once and then program it to record and really quickly, we have scaled up to massive amounts of acoustic data that we can then go back and analyze,” Quinn said. Quinn is working with General Mills to categorize and identify each bird in the thousands of hours of recordings taken by WildLife Acoustics microphones. The goal is to compare the bird populations on farms practicing regenerative agriculture to control groups to see if there is a statistically significant difference in bird populations.  Last summer, he had recorders on 30 farms in Kansas and is working on analyzing the sounds. Databases of bird sounds such as Kaleidoscope, also created by Wildlife Acoustics, and BirdNet can group or identify bird sounds, but the songs are so complicated that it still takes a trained ornithologist to make the final call.  “The regional dialects that different birds have is so diverse,” Quinn said. “A Carolina wren down here in South Carolina, that might sound different than one out in Kansas.” The hope is to one day be able to mail these recorders to farmers, have them program them and stick them in fields all over the world to get a clearer picture of bird populations and changes as regenerative practices are adopted. That’s something that would be cost-prohibitive before the invention of this easy-to-operate technology, Quinn said.  Faunaphotonics insect sensor in the feild.//Courtesy of Faunaphotonics. 5. Identifying insects using lasers  Denmark-based FaunaPhotonics creates a sensor that gives farmers real-time information about the type, number and activity of insects flitting between their crops. The company, spearheaded by two Ph.D.s., hired a business expert to bring the sensor to market. The sensor uses LEDs and photodiodes to see and interpret the wing flutter patterns of insects that fly past the sensor. The machine-learning algorithm uses the wing flutter to identify the insect and create a report for the farmer.  “The sensor is like a one-stop-shop,” said Kevin James Knagg, commercial director of FaunaPhotonics. “You can see how many bees, the number of different types of bees, this many moths, or break that down to say, you’ve had 1,628 honey bees been active past this center in the last four hours. Or if you’re looking to see how you can generate more bee activity, or maybe you’re looking at biodiversity as a whole and want to see all the insects.”   Pull Quote These new tools are helping put numbers to the abstract concept of regenerative agriculture. Topics Food & Agriculture Regenerative Agriculture Food & Agriculture Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Regenerative farming requires more high-tech equipment than tractors. //Courtesy of Unsplash 

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5 cool measurement tools attempting to quantify regenerative agriculture

BREEAM-Excellent Le Monde Group HQ by Snhetta opens in Paris

February 3, 2021 by  
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French media company Le Monde Group has recently welcomed its 1,600 employees into its new headquarters, a striking Snøhetta-designed building that’s not only certified BREEAM Excellent but has also been awarded the prestigious French real estate prize, Grand Prix SIMI, in the category “New Office Building Larger than 10,000 square meters.” Located in the city’s 13th arrondissement, the curvaceous office building draws the eye with its bold plaza, soaring archway and semi-transparent outer skin that comprises over 20,000 pixelated glass elements in a pattern with nearly 800 possible configurations. The facade’s sophisticated, text-like pattern evokes the printed letters of newspapers and magazines.  Located at the intersection of Paris ’ old historic parts and the more modern district on the Rive Gauche, the 23,000-square-meter Le Monde Group Headquarters unites the company’s six newsrooms, which had been previously scattered across different sites in the city, under one roof. Transparency, accessibility and a sense of open dialogue with Paris drove the design of the building’s translucent, dynamic facade and public plaza with ground-floor retail spaces. The site also features over 300 bicycle parking spots and easy access to a neighboring train station. Related: Snøhetta completes stunning Norwegian cabins for glacier hikers “Since its inception the Le Monde Group Headquarters has embodied an architectural and symbolic counterpoint to the many challenges our societies face today,” said Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta . “The building is primarily about opening up in a time where fear and uncertainty pushes our societies to increase barriers and strengthen security enforcement. In this sense, the project invites us to reflect on how architecture can create spaces that can be both public and private, exterior and interior, transparent or opaque. Like so many other of our projects, it is a hybrid building that explores the interstices of architecture and that is conceived to be at the service of the public.” Solar panels cover almost the entire roof of the building, while a portion of the building is pulled back to make room for an open-air terrace framed in vegetation. Accessible from both sides of the structure, the elevated terrace provides stunning views of the surrounding cityscape and the Seine River. Inside, the light-filled interiors include high-quality, expansive offices with a variety of flexible workspaces and meeting rooms as well as amenities such as a library, a staff restaurant, an auditorium and a Le Monde Group analogue archive. + Snøhetta Photography by Marwan Harmouche, Ludwig Favre and Jared Chulski via Snøhetta

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BREEAM-Excellent Le Monde Group HQ by Snhetta opens in Paris

Architects design a rooftop nature conservatory in Hong Kong

February 3, 2021 by  
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A design team led by PLandscape and LAAB Architects has brought a rooftop nature conservatory in Hong Kong to life. The Nature Discovery Park will offer a plethora of nature-based learning experiences with a biodiversity museum, an outdoor farm to provide farm-to-table dining, a butterfly garden and more. The park is found at the center of Hong Kong on the top level of the popular K11 MUSEA shopping mall. The urban location offers city residents (who otherwise would have little to no access to farm life) an opportunity to experience their food in a whole new light. Design-wise, the protective pitched roof and reflection of the crops against glass competes with the city’s skyscrapers, helping to remind Hong Kong’s citizens that the natural world and urban life can coexist. Related: Rehabilitation Center of China is topped with a healing roof garden At the center of the park is a glass greenhouse encasing an organic hydroponic nursery leading out to an organized, outdoor farm. The structure features steel and aluminum cladding in its frame, with the glass facade included to reduce heat gain and large sliding doors to promote natural ventilation. All door handles, pendant lamps and tables are made of sustainably harvested wood. In order to reduce construction waste, the greenhouse was prefabricated and installed onsite. In addition to hosting farm-to-table meals with the ingredients grown onsite, the park offers tours, nature explorations and education programs that focus on subjects such as biodiversity and sustainability. Guests of the farm-to-table restaurant have the option of exploring the gardens and learning more about their food’s growing conditions and urban farming in general before enjoying a meal. The museum itself features an aquarium designed to reflect the marine species that would be present in the nearby Victoria Harbor without pollution. The building features a rooftop butterfly garden growing pollinator-friendly plants to attract Hong Kong’s diverse populations of butterflies. + LAAB Architects Photography by Otto Ng of LAAB Architects via v2com

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Architects design a rooftop nature conservatory in Hong Kong

A new policy platform is thinking big on forests and climate

December 1, 2020 by  
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A new policy platform is thinking big on forests and climate Kylie Clay Tue, 12/01/2020 – 00:30 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sent a clear message : to keep catastrophic climate change impacts at bay, we need to keep our warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the land sector must play a central role in achieving that. We need to stop emissions from deforestation and forest degradation while simultaneously bolstering the carbon sequestration capacity of healthy, growing forests. Following the recent U.S. presidential election, the Forest-Climate Working Group (FCWG) released an ambitious federal policy platform , endorsed by 43 CEOs and organizations representing all dimensions of U.S. forests, intended to help Congress leverage forests for climate change action. The platform includes five detailed proposals that guide policymakers on how to help private forest owners and public land managers overcome existing financial and technical obstacles, enabling them to grow powerful climate solutions in America’s forests and forest product sectors while delivering myriad environmental and economic benefits. Together, the proposals advance the four FCWG goals for climate change mitigation : Maintain and expand forest cover. Improve forest practices for carbon, adaptation and resilience. Advance markets for forest carbon, forest products and skilled labor. Enhance climate data and applied science. Changing priorities Our newly elected leadership is on board with climate action. A crucial component of any carbon-neutral or net-zero plan is offsetting any continued emissions with additional sequestration from natural and working lands, including forests. The threat climate change presents to our well-being is becoming increasingly undeniable, and the need and desire to take impactful action is within reach. In her vice-presidential debate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris recognized climate change as an “existential threat” and stated that, under a Biden administration, the U.S. would be ” carbon-neutral by 2035 .” President-elect Joe Biden’s official campaign climate plan highlights the next step: achieving ” net-zero emissions no later than 2050 .” To ensure these targets are within reach, FCWG proposals address the following challenges:   Non-industrial family landowners own 36 percent of U.S. forests (with an average parcel size of 67.2 acres ). Due to their small size, the vast majority are unable to benefit from existing carbon markets and face increasing financial pressure to convert forestland into cropland or development. U.S. forests are understocked . Research and funding for increased reforestation are needed to optimize forest sequestration without exacerbating potential for catastrophic fire. The construction sector makes up 8.6 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. While technology such as cross-laminated timber could dramatically reduce sector emissions if sustainably deployed at scale, it faces upfront informational and perceived cost barriers for architects, builders and developers. Ideas into action With the following specific proposals, the FCWG aims to address the aforementioned challenges and, in so doing, increase the climate change mitigation potential from forests and forest products: Create a new forest conservation easement program. Conservation easements are an important voluntary option for forest landowners to keep their forests as forests. This proposal would meet growing demand for easements by creating a new funding source. Create a landowner tax credit for private forest carbon actions. This policy would create opportunities for private landowners to gain financial incentive for activities that increase carbon sequestration via a transferrable tax credit. Remove the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund. The outdated cap has left a reforestation backlog of millions of acres, particularly in areas affected by large-scale disturbance from pests or fire. Removing the outdated cap will provide the U.S. Forest Service with increased annual funding to improve national forest health and assure these lands can quickly restart carbon sequestration. Create a low carbon footprint building tax credit. Wood products store carbon and require less energy to manufacture than other materials, reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment. Providing a tax incentive to build with low carbon footprint materials will create incentives to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment while creating market demand that helps landowners keep forests as forests. Expand Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program funding. More frequent and consistent forest measurement data coupled with better analysis capabilities will deepen our understanding of forest carbon. Expanding the U.S. Forest Service’s FIA Program, already a globally recognized source of forest carbon data, will provide more comprehensive and granular data. These proposals are necessary steps toward meaningfully combatting climate change. Richard Kobe, Michigan State University Forestry Department chair, says of the platform:   “The FCWG policy platform is right on target by supporting investments in our forests, landowners and research capacity. These elements are critical to ensure our forests are effective carbon sinks and are resilient to climate change, which in turn supports economic vitality of rural communities, clean water, wildlife and the many other benefits that forests provide.” Uptake and implementation The FCWG policy platform lays out a roadmap of tangible steps to ensure that our forests are part of the climate solution. As the 117th U.S. Congress prepares to undertake a range of legislation, climate inevitably will play a dominant role. The threat climate change presents to our well-being is becoming increasingly undeniable, and the need and desire to take impactful action is within reach. A host of recent bipartisan bills (such as the Growing Climate Solutions Act and Rural Forests Market Act proposals) highlight that being proactive about the environmental and economic potential of our natural and working lands, including forestry and agriculture, is of great interest on both sides of the aisle. The MSU Forest Carbon and Climate Program (FCCP) aims to increase understanding and implementation of climate-smart forest management, which inextricably links climate change mitigation and adaptation. The program focuses on activities that advance best practice implementation, promote robust and inter-disciplinary understanding of forest benefits and co-benefits, and develop and nurture balanced perspectives that include working forests and forest products as a part of the climate change solution. These objectives are achieved through working with strategic partners to better communicate and bring attention to key topics, create educational content and programming, and bridge dialogue gaps on carbon and climate topics related to forests and forested lands. Pull Quote The threat climate change presents to our well-being is becoming increasingly undeniable, and the need and desire to take impactful action is within reach. Contributors Lauren Cooper Topics Forestry Policy & Politics Climate Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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A new policy platform is thinking big on forests and climate

Lack of cruise ships gives researchers the perfect chance to study humpback whales

October 5, 2020 by  
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Due to the impact of COVID-19, researchers have found the perfect opportunity to understand the Alaskan coast and its humpback whales. Alaska’s southeastern waters are usually busy, with thousands of tourists on cruise ships at any given moment. This disruption impacts how the whales behave. However, researchers have experienced a difference during the summer of this year, thanks to a slow-down of tourist activities, and they are taking the rare chance for a closer study of the area’s humpback whales. Alaska receives many cruise ships every year with over 1 million tourists expecting to enjoy spectacular views of glaciers. However, that number has been drastically reduced to zero during the pandemic . Now that the waters are open, researchers are using the opportunity to understand the ecosystem better. Related: Record number of pilot whales get stranded, die in Tasmania Paul Swanstrom, founder of Mountain Flying Service, said, “The town of Skagway gets a million people a year off cruise ships and is just completely shut down. It’s nuts. All the southeast has been hit pretty hard.” With the ships out of the way, scientists are now preparing to watch whales in their natural habitat. It has been over 40 years since scientists last recorded the sounds of whales in Alaska. In most cases, they have to record the interactions between whales and humans. “It’s the first time in human history that we’ve had the technological ability to listen to these whales in a meaningful way without us interfering … it’s a really, really big deal,” said Michelle Fournet, director of Sound Science Research Collective and research fellow of Cornell University. “The last time researchers were able to listen to humpbacks in a quiet ocean in Alaska was in 1976.” Since whale observations began, the technology has greatly improved, allowing researchers to gather improved data on the whales. “We’re going to see how these humpback whales are interacting with their environment instead of how they’re interacting with us,” Fournet explained. “You can’t figure out whether or not your species is resilient to something if you don’t know what it acts like when it’s happy.” Via The Guardian Image via Pixabay

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Lack of cruise ships gives researchers the perfect chance to study humpback whales

Nordstrom to end the sale of fur and animal skins

October 5, 2020 by  
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One of America’s leading fashion retailers, Nordstrom, has announced that it will be ending the sale of fur and animal skins by 2021. This move comes at a time when the world is faced with various environmental issues that are forcing many people to rethink their lifestyle choices, including what is in their wardrobes. The company has partnered with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to implement the plan. This now means that all products made from fur or any other animal-derived material will not be sold at Nordstrom stores, including Nordstrom Rack and Last Chance, or at its online stores by the end of 2021. Nordstrom’s chief marketing officer, Teri Bariquit, announced that the company wanted to honor its customers’ wishes by updating the products it offers. “As part of our ongoing product evolution, we’ve been working with the Humane Society of the United States and recently made the decision to stop offering products made with genuine fur or exotic animal skin in any of our stores or online,” Bariquit said. “Our private label brands haven’t used these materials for years, so extending this policy to all the brands we carry is a natural next step for our business.” Related: Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s to be fur-free by 2021 The decision was welcomed by HSUS, with the organization’s CEO Kitty Block praising the brand for banning not just fur but also other animal skins. “We applaud Nordstrom for ending the sale of fur and becoming the first United States-based retailer to ban exotic animal skins,” Block said. “This is a pivotal step toward a more humane business model and a safer world for animals.” Although Nordstrom is taking a positive step forward, the decision comes after years of push and pull between the retailer and the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The group has been demanding that Nordstrom and other retailers stop selling products made out of animal fur and skin since 1999. In 2019, PETA released an investigation showing how Nordstrom was helping to fuel the fur trade in Russia. Now, PETA is calling on other retailers to follow in the footsteps of Nordstrom in an effort to create a better world for both humans and animals. + Nordstrom Via VegNews Image via Nordstrom

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