Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

June 1, 2020 by  
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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause? Joel Makower Mon, 06/01/2020 – 00:00 If you were to believe the mainstream business media, there would be no question whatsoever that the twin crises of a pandemic and a recession have pretty much put the kibosh on sustainable business activity. I mean, why, amid all this human and economic carnage, should companies be focused on anything besides keeping their doors open? Last month, for example, the Wall Street Journal published a piece (“Sustainability Was Corporate America’s Buzzword. This Crisis Changes That”) proclaiming that when it comes to corporate commitments and programs, “executives have called a timeout.” It said in part: Today, every occupant of every C-suite is trying to figure out what they’re willing to throw overboard as the economic storm spawned by the pandemic is swamping their ships. Businesses that were planning to help save the world are now simply saving themselves. Among the Journal’s proof points: General Motors put the brakes on a car-sharing program, Starbucks washed its hands of filling reusable coffee mugs and “companies have delayed sustainability reports.” Yes, we get it: No one wants to share a vehicle with strangers or refill an unwashed coffee mug during a pandemic. No question those programs should be “thrown overboard,” at least temporarily. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. All of which, my friends, is the editorial equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard: something so dissonant with reality that it makes my head hurt. The reality is that corporate sustainability is alive and well. Unlike previous economic downturns, sustainability isn’t being jettisoned in the spirit of corporate cost-savings. It’s being kept alive as part of a pathway back to profitability. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Need proof that reports of the death of sustainability are premature? Let’s begin with a few headlines: Southern Company commits to net-zero emissions by 2050 Microsoft committed to protect more land than it operates on globally by 2025 Citigroup to halt all financing for thermal coal mining by 2030 Shell plans to achieve net-zero emissions across its product manufacturing operations Mattel launches latest sugarcane-based products Volvo and Daimler launch €1.2 billion fuel cell truck joint venture General Mills commits to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 All of those happened in April. April! The Lost Month. When jobs and economic activity essentially went poof. When more than 190,000 humans died of COVID-19 globally, nearly five times the number one month earlier, and more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs. When the U.S. services sector posted its biggest contraction in more than a decade and the price of oil turned negative for the first time in history. When the global economy essentially sank like a stone as people world over sheltered in place. April! Okay, you say, April coincides with Earth Day, when companies traditionally strut their sustainability stuff. Thus, it’s not a good indicator. Fair enough. In that case, here are some headlines from May: Total pledges to deliver net-zero operations by mid-century Campbell Soup to transition to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2030 Dunkin’ switches to plastic-free cups and plans to double number of green restaurants French corporates call for “green and inclusive recovery” BNP Paribas accelerates “complete coal exit” plan Intel’s 2030 commitments include “shared” climate and social goals More than 300 companies push U.S. Congress to promote climate action Pernod Ricard moves up ban on single-use plastics to 2021 ADM to pioneer biofuels, more carbon capture projects Over 150 global corporations urge world leaders for net-zero recovery from COVID-19 Siemens Gamesa unveils plans for “world’s largest wind turbine” Google to stop making AI tools for oil and gas extraction Half of Cargill’s sustainable cocoa now traceable from farm to factory I could go on; there’s more where these came from. Still, this baker’s dozen of storylines provides a peek into what happened in the 31 days just ended, well before most cities and states have started to reopen. Another data point, albeit anecdotal: The 90 or so members of our GreenBiz Executive Network — sustainability leaders at large companies — remain firmly in their jobs. Sure, there’s been some churn — both comings and goings — but that’s normal. There seem to be precious few layoffs among these professionals. That could change if the downturn drags on, but so far, so good.  Five easy pieces So, why is sustainability still going strong within the private sector amid this terrifying time? Five reasons: 1. Corporate sustainability is a long-term evolution. As several of the above headlines suggest, companies are making commitments into 2025, 2030 and beyond. That means they have set the wheels in motion for long-term structural change. These changes generally don’t come and go based on quarterly cycles. 2. Companies understand that sustainability engenders resilience by making supply chains more transparent, operations more efficient and, increasingly, improving the ability of operations to withstand or recover from calamities of all types. 3. Investors see sustainability as material. Largely because of No. 2 above, institutional shareholders see sustainability performance as a proxy for a well-managed company that is taking a risked-based approach to strategy and investing. And they’re not shy about letting companies know this. 4. There’s a growing call for a business-led “green recovery” to revive economies around the world and help them prepare for the next likely pandemic: climate change. While the Green New Deal isn’t yet getting traction in Washington, D.C., some of its components already are being tucked into the recovery legislation. And in Europe, “green recovery” is already a mainstream meme . 5. Companies understand that the world is watching. They want to be able to attract and retain customers and talent — to be seen as part of the solution or at least not part of the problem. True, we’ve been hearing this for years, and there is strong evidence that job shoppers and seekers have been seeking out “good” companies. But the times have ratcheted up those concerns. In a world where talent, both young and experienced, are drawn to employers that are helping address the world’s problems, who will want to work for your company? Of course, it’s not all a rosy scenario. Clean energy jobs have been decimated . Hiring is on hold for many open corporate sustainability positions. More than a few sustainable business professionals are devoting their time these days to the pandemic, to ensure the well-being of employees, suppliers, customers and others, and that facilities will be healthy places to work once the recovery kicks in. Some are itching to get back to their “day job.” But let’s stop and briefly celebrate the moment: Corporate sustainability continues, largely unhindered, during some of the worst moments in modern human history. Its value and importance are being seen as central to addressing the economic, environmental and social problems we face, and to increasing societal resilience to the next wave of shocks, in whatever form they take. And, little by little, companies are stepping up to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities. Okay, enough celebrating. It’s time to get back to the hard work still to be done. Pull Quote For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Topics Leadership State of the Profession Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz, via Shutterstock Close Authorship

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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

June 1, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Comments Off on Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause? Joel Makower Mon, 06/01/2020 – 00:00 If you were to believe the mainstream business media, there would be no question whatsoever that the twin crises of a pandemic and a recession have pretty much put the kibosh on sustainable business activity. I mean, why, amid all this human and economic carnage, should companies be focused on anything besides keeping their doors open? Last month, for example, the Wall Street Journal published a piece (“Sustainability Was Corporate America’s Buzzword. This Crisis Changes That”) proclaiming that when it comes to corporate commitments and programs, “executives have called a timeout.” It said in part: Today, every occupant of every C-suite is trying to figure out what they’re willing to throw overboard as the economic storm spawned by the pandemic is swamping their ships. Businesses that were planning to help save the world are now simply saving themselves. Among the Journal’s proof points: General Motors put the brakes on a car-sharing program, Starbucks washed its hands of filling reusable coffee mugs and “companies have delayed sustainability reports.” Yes, we get it: No one wants to share a vehicle with strangers or refill an unwashed coffee mug during a pandemic. No question those programs should be “thrown overboard,” at least temporarily. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. All of which, my friends, is the editorial equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard: something so dissonant with reality that it makes my head hurt. The reality is that corporate sustainability is alive and well. Unlike previous economic downturns, sustainability isn’t being jettisoned in the spirit of corporate cost-savings. It’s being kept alive as part of a pathway back to profitability. For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Need proof that reports of the death of sustainability are premature? Let’s begin with a few headlines: Southern Company commits to net-zero emissions by 2050 Microsoft committed to protect more land than it operates on globally by 2025 Citigroup to halt all financing for thermal coal mining by 2030 Shell plans to achieve net-zero emissions across its product manufacturing operations Mattel launches latest sugarcane-based products Volvo and Daimler launch €1.2 billion fuel cell truck joint venture General Mills commits to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 All of those happened in April. April! The Lost Month. When jobs and economic activity essentially went poof. When more than 190,000 humans died of COVID-19 globally, nearly five times the number one month earlier, and more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs. When the U.S. services sector posted its biggest contraction in more than a decade and the price of oil turned negative for the first time in history. When the global economy essentially sank like a stone as people world over sheltered in place. April! Okay, you say, April coincides with Earth Day, when companies traditionally strut their sustainability stuff. Thus, it’s not a good indicator. Fair enough. In that case, here are some headlines from May: Total pledges to deliver net-zero operations by mid-century Campbell Soup to transition to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2030 Dunkin’ switches to plastic-free cups and plans to double number of green restaurants French corporates call for “green and inclusive recovery” BNP Paribas accelerates “complete coal exit” plan Intel’s 2030 commitments include “shared” climate and social goals More than 300 companies push U.S. Congress to promote climate action Pernod Ricard moves up ban on single-use plastics to 2021 ADM to pioneer biofuels, more carbon capture projects Over 150 global corporations urge world leaders for net-zero recovery from COVID-19 Siemens Gamesa unveils plans for “world’s largest wind turbine” Google to stop making AI tools for oil and gas extraction Half of Cargill’s sustainable cocoa now traceable from farm to factory I could go on; there’s more where these came from. Still, this baker’s dozen of storylines provides a peek into what happened in the 31 days just ended, well before most cities and states have started to reopen. Another data point, albeit anecdotal: The 90 or so members of our GreenBiz Executive Network — sustainability leaders at large companies — remain firmly in their jobs. Sure, there’s been some churn — both comings and goings — but that’s normal. There seem to be precious few layoffs among these professionals. That could change if the downturn drags on, but so far, so good.  Five easy pieces So, why is sustainability still going strong within the private sector amid this terrifying time? Five reasons: 1. Corporate sustainability is a long-term evolution. As several of the above headlines suggest, companies are making commitments into 2025, 2030 and beyond. That means they have set the wheels in motion for long-term structural change. These changes generally don’t come and go based on quarterly cycles. 2. Companies understand that sustainability engenders resilience by making supply chains more transparent, operations more efficient and, increasingly, improving the ability of operations to withstand or recover from calamities of all types. 3. Investors see sustainability as material. Largely because of No. 2 above, institutional shareholders see sustainability performance as a proxy for a well-managed company that is taking a risked-based approach to strategy and investing. And they’re not shy about letting companies know this. 4. There’s a growing call for a business-led “green recovery” to revive economies around the world and help them prepare for the next likely pandemic: climate change. While the Green New Deal isn’t yet getting traction in Washington, D.C., some of its components already are being tucked into the recovery legislation. And in Europe, “green recovery” is already a mainstream meme . 5. Companies understand that the world is watching. They want to be able to attract and retain customers and talent — to be seen as part of the solution or at least not part of the problem. True, we’ve been hearing this for years, and there is strong evidence that job shoppers and seekers have been seeking out “good” companies. But the times have ratcheted up those concerns. In a world where talent, both young and experienced, are drawn to employers that are helping address the world’s problems, who will want to work for your company? Of course, it’s not all a rosy scenario. Clean energy jobs have been decimated . Hiring is on hold for many open corporate sustainability positions. More than a few sustainable business professionals are devoting their time these days to the pandemic, to ensure the well-being of employees, suppliers, customers and others, and that facilities will be healthy places to work once the recovery kicks in. Some are itching to get back to their “day job.” But let’s stop and briefly celebrate the moment: Corporate sustainability continues, largely unhindered, during some of the worst moments in modern human history. Its value and importance are being seen as central to addressing the economic, environmental and social problems we face, and to increasing societal resilience to the next wave of shocks, in whatever form they take. And, little by little, companies are stepping up to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities. Okay, enough celebrating. It’s time to get back to the hard work still to be done. Pull Quote For the first time, corporate sustainability professionals are on the bus instead of being thrown under it. Topics Leadership State of the Profession Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz, via Shutterstock Close Authorship

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Is sustainability undergoing a pandemic pause?

Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

May 29, 2020 by  
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Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept Heather Clancy Fri, 05/29/2020 – 02:15 If your sustainability team has regular debates about how to label or describe its various initiatives, it’s not alone. The nuances of all the various adjectives and descriptors that are used to describe climate action — from “science-based” to “net zero” to “carbon negative” — are enough to make heads spin, especially for those who spend their professional lives worrying about how to communicate these concepts. The analysts and journalists of GreenBiz feel your pain. So, it was hardly surprising when literally thousands of GreenBiz community members signed up for the recent webcast about “Absolute Zero,” moderated by yours truly. It was one of the best-attended sessions in the history of our online events.  Technically speaking, the literal definition of absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature that’s theoretically possible. From the climate perspective, the phrase is used frequently by UK Fires, a research collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London — although it’s not all that common (yet at least) in North American circles.  So how does this idea apply to the world of sustainability? Here’s the first thing to understand about the concept of Absolute Zero as it applies to corporate climate action: It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s just the table stakes. The reality, though, is that any individual company must use a combination of strategies to inch or leap toward that goal — and the combination of what an organization is able to use will depend a great deal not just on its industry sector but also on its financial clout and support from the C-suite.  It might, for example, buy carbon offsets to kickstart action in the short term without delay, then move on to supporting initiatives that directly affect its operations, such as installing new technologies for energy efficiency or clean energy. From there, the focus for many companies often progresses into its supply chain — the place many corporate sustainability teams spend a lot of their time today. The most ambitious plans (at least right now) are those seeking ways to enable reductions for others on top of all that. Some organizations never may reach the last stage. But those that can should try, according to the speakers on this month’s webcast. “In a world in which we know some companies will not be able to reach net zero, it’s absolutely imperative that others who can reach it go beyond,” said Charlotte Bande, climate strategy lead for sustainability consulting firm Quantis. Bande said Absolute Zero (a concept that the firm is socializing with its clients) is the long-term guidepost that businesses should navigate toward — it encourages companies to maximize their individual contributions toward the vision of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. “Absolute sustainability is about making sure that society operates within planetary boundaries while satisfying human needs,” Bande said. Included in that should be strategies addressing biodiversity, land use, freshwater consumption, the phosphorus cycle and the nitrogen cycle, she noted. How might Absolute Zero apply to your own strategy? During the next 10 years — a period the United Nations Global Compact has dubbed the ” Decade of Action ” — companies must focus far more on mitigating their impact not just within their own corporate boundaries but within their entire value chain, including suppliers and customers, according to the speakers on the GreenBiz webcast.  That means paying far more attention to issues related to sustainable development, such as child labor policies, community water abuses or gender equity issues, said Owen Hewlett, chief technical officer of Gold Standard, a Swiss NGO that issues carbon credits.  “We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time,” he said. Offsetting versus insetting Hewlett devoted part of his presentation to a discussion about ” insetting ,” which he and Bande defined as activities within a company’s supply chain that can be counted toward science-based targets even though they are technically outside a company’s direct boundaries — such as addressing the emissions of suppliers in tiers one or two of a company’s supply chain.  In that way, insetting is distinct from the more broadly used process of “offsetting,” a term often used to describe the process of supporting projects focused on carbon removal in order to receive credit for the reductions that it enables.  For many organizations, the distinction is elusive, but many companies use the process of offsetting to kickstart their corporate emissions reductions. The idea of insetting is often associated with natural climate solutions , although it can be accomplished by any verifiable activity that mitigates emissions related to a company’s value chain.  We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time. “The real test is this question: What does it count towards? If it’s in boundary, you can report it against science-based targets. If it’s outside boundaries, then it should be considered enabling reductions [for others]. Often, it’s a bit of both,” Hewlett acknowledged. One example of insetting is a program that the petcare divisions of food company Mars created to help wheat farmers improve their productivity and measure the carbon sequestration impact of activities such as reducing fertilizer usage and using cover crops and manures.  Apple’s program to invest in renewable energy for some suppliers is another illustration of an initiative that could be considered an example of insetting. (This example wasn’t used on the webcast, but it helps illustrate what’s possible.)   Leadership is a constantly moving target Focusing on reducing Scope 3 emissions that are upstream or downstream in a company’s value chain is a growing focus for sustainability teams in sectors such as food and consumer packaged goods — as is focusing on the creation of products and services that help other organizations, particularly customers and suppliers, cut their impact more broadly.  During the webcast, one of several polling questions probed attendees about where they thought it was possible to “maximize the potential” of their sustainable business strategies. More than half of those who responded during the live session said “enabling others to reduce” was where their largest future impact lies. The idea that companies have a responsibility not just for their own emissions but also for those of their customers and suppliers is being embraced by a growing number of companies, including Microsoft.   In January, the technology company publicly embraced a “carbon negative” climate strategy that will see Microsoft begin to charge its different business units an internal carbon fee for their Scope 3 emissions — it also does this for Scope 1 and Scope 2 impacts. It also committed $1 billion in funding to new technologies, innovations and climate solutions, with the intent of taking responsibility for past emission. “We really zeroed in on what we’re doing not only in our own operations but in our value chain,” said Elizabeth Willmott, carbon program manager at Microsoft, on the webcast. In a sense, successful companies and industrialized nations should bear responsibility for the climate impact of their economic sense, she said. “What is exciting is that it embraces the idea of net zero, but goes beyond,” Willmott said. While Microsoft hasn’t used the phrase Absolute Zero to describe this strategy, the carbon negative nomenclature has been used by others, including retailer IKEA, which actually adopted a similar philosophy in 2018. (IKEA now uses the term ” climate positive ” to describe its policy, as does Intuit, which is teaming up with Project Drawdown for help.  Regardless what they actually call it, the aim is the same: These companies intend to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they produce — because they have the means of doing so.  Microsoft considers the future impact of its products — particularly its cloud software services — as a key motivator for its recent strategy shift. In that sense, its climate policy is increasingly being embedded into core business decisions, including future “co-innovation” with both retail and enterprise customers.  “What is a leadership move today won’t be tomorrow,” Willmott said during the webcast. Pull Quote We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time. Topics Corporate Strategy Carbon Removal Offsets Natural Climate Solutions Collective Insight GreenBiz 101 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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Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

May 29, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Comments Off on Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept Heather Clancy Fri, 05/29/2020 – 02:15 If your sustainability team has regular debates about how to label or describe its various initiatives, it’s not alone. The nuances of all the various adjectives and descriptors that are used to describe climate action — from “science-based” to “net zero” to “carbon negative” — are enough to make heads spin, especially for those who spend their professional lives worrying about how to communicate these concepts. The analysts and journalists of GreenBiz feel your pain. So, it was hardly surprising when literally thousands of GreenBiz community members signed up for the recent webcast about “Absolute Zero,” moderated by yours truly. It was one of the best-attended sessions in the history of our online events.  Technically speaking, the literal definition of absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature that’s theoretically possible. From the climate perspective, the phrase is used frequently by UK Fires, a research collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London — although it’s not all that common (yet at least) in North American circles.  So how does this idea apply to the world of sustainability? Here’s the first thing to understand about the concept of Absolute Zero as it applies to corporate climate action: It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s just the table stakes. The reality, though, is that any individual company must use a combination of strategies to inch or leap toward that goal — and the combination of what an organization is able to use will depend a great deal not just on its industry sector but also on its financial clout and support from the C-suite.  It might, for example, buy carbon offsets to kickstart action in the short term without delay, then move on to supporting initiatives that directly affect its operations, such as installing new technologies for energy efficiency or clean energy. From there, the focus for many companies often progresses into its supply chain — the place many corporate sustainability teams spend a lot of their time today. The most ambitious plans (at least right now) are those seeking ways to enable reductions for others on top of all that. Some organizations never may reach the last stage. But those that can should try, according to the speakers on this month’s webcast. “In a world in which we know some companies will not be able to reach net zero, it’s absolutely imperative that others who can reach it go beyond,” said Charlotte Bande, climate strategy lead for sustainability consulting firm Quantis. Bande said Absolute Zero (a concept that the firm is socializing with its clients) is the long-term guidepost that businesses should navigate toward — it encourages companies to maximize their individual contributions toward the vision of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. “Absolute sustainability is about making sure that society operates within planetary boundaries while satisfying human needs,” Bande said. Included in that should be strategies addressing biodiversity, land use, freshwater consumption, the phosphorus cycle and the nitrogen cycle, she noted. How might Absolute Zero apply to your own strategy? During the next 10 years — a period the United Nations Global Compact has dubbed the ” Decade of Action ” — companies must focus far more on mitigating their impact not just within their own corporate boundaries but within their entire value chain, including suppliers and customers, according to the speakers on the GreenBiz webcast.  That means paying far more attention to issues related to sustainable development, such as child labor policies, community water abuses or gender equity issues, said Owen Hewlett, chief technical officer of Gold Standard, a Swiss NGO that issues carbon credits.  “We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time,” he said. Offsetting versus insetting Hewlett devoted part of his presentation to a discussion about ” insetting ,” which he and Bande defined as activities within a company’s supply chain that can be counted toward science-based targets even though they are technically outside a company’s direct boundaries — such as addressing the emissions of suppliers in tiers one or two of a company’s supply chain.  In that way, insetting is distinct from the more broadly used process of “offsetting,” a term often used to describe the process of supporting projects focused on carbon removal in order to receive credit for the reductions that it enables.  For many organizations, the distinction is elusive, but many companies use the process of offsetting to kickstart their corporate emissions reductions. The idea of insetting is often associated with natural climate solutions , although it can be accomplished by any verifiable activity that mitigates emissions related to a company’s value chain.  We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time. “The real test is this question: What does it count towards? If it’s in boundary, you can report it against science-based targets. If it’s outside boundaries, then it should be considered enabling reductions [for others]. Often, it’s a bit of both,” Hewlett acknowledged. One example of insetting is a program that the petcare divisions of food company Mars created to help wheat farmers improve their productivity and measure the carbon sequestration impact of activities such as reducing fertilizer usage and using cover crops and manures.  Apple’s program to invest in renewable energy for some suppliers is another illustration of an initiative that could be considered an example of insetting. (This example wasn’t used on the webcast, but it helps illustrate what’s possible.)   Leadership is a constantly moving target Focusing on reducing Scope 3 emissions that are upstream or downstream in a company’s value chain is a growing focus for sustainability teams in sectors such as food and consumer packaged goods — as is focusing on the creation of products and services that help other organizations, particularly customers and suppliers, cut their impact more broadly.  During the webcast, one of several polling questions probed attendees about where they thought it was possible to “maximize the potential” of their sustainable business strategies. More than half of those who responded during the live session said “enabling others to reduce” was where their largest future impact lies. The idea that companies have a responsibility not just for their own emissions but also for those of their customers and suppliers is being embraced by a growing number of companies, including Microsoft.   In January, the technology company publicly embraced a “carbon negative” climate strategy that will see Microsoft begin to charge its different business units an internal carbon fee for their Scope 3 emissions — it also does this for Scope 1 and Scope 2 impacts. It also committed $1 billion in funding to new technologies, innovations and climate solutions, with the intent of taking responsibility for past emission. “We really zeroed in on what we’re doing not only in our own operations but in our value chain,” said Elizabeth Willmott, carbon program manager at Microsoft, on the webcast. In a sense, successful companies and industrialized nations should bear responsibility for the climate impact of their economic sense, she said. “What is exciting is that it embraces the idea of net zero, but goes beyond,” Willmott said. While Microsoft hasn’t used the phrase Absolute Zero to describe this strategy, the carbon negative nomenclature has been used by others, including retailer IKEA, which actually adopted a similar philosophy in 2018. (IKEA now uses the term ” climate positive ” to describe its policy, as does Intuit, which is teaming up with Project Drawdown for help.  Regardless what they actually call it, the aim is the same: These companies intend to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they produce — because they have the means of doing so.  Microsoft considers the future impact of its products — particularly its cloud software services — as a key motivator for its recent strategy shift. In that sense, its climate policy is increasingly being embedded into core business decisions, including future “co-innovation” with both retail and enterprise customers.  “What is a leadership move today won’t be tomorrow,” Willmott said during the webcast. Pull Quote We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time. Topics Corporate Strategy Carbon Removal Offsets Natural Climate Solutions Collective Insight GreenBiz 101 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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Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

"Wither" artistically represents deforestation in the Amazon

May 27, 2020 by  
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While all eyes are on the national and international headlines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears no one is watching and protecting the rainforest, which is experiencing a “newly deforested area” that is “71% larger” than previous records, according to The Wall Street Journal . When the data regarding this rapid increase in deforestation came to light, Dutch artist Thijs Biersteker created a digital art installation titled, “Wither,” to visually represent the disappearing landscape in Brazilian rainforests. Related: Humans can’t count on rainforests to offset their carbon Taking the form of a plant  with a variety of leaf styles, the electrically-powered piece brings to light, quite literally, the roughly three football fields-worth of rainforest that is lost each second . Well, technically Biersteker brings it to dark, as the lights of each petal fade and become transparent to represent “the loss of 250m2 of rainforest,” according to the artist. Each light that is snuffed out matches real-time data coming in from a variety of rainforest watch groups who monitor the deforestation progression.  Biersteker and his team from Woven Studio planned to reveal the artwork later on, but the recent acceleration of deforestation during this pandemic added a sense of urgency to the message, so they decided to launch now to drive awareness around the topic. The art was commissioned by Daily Paper, a popular Amsterdam-based fashion and lifestyle brand. As Biersteker said, “It is interesting that while we dream, talk, videocall, and post about a new post-Covid-19 world, an old system is destroying our future more fiercefull than ever. This artwork turns deforestation facts into something you can feel. Hopefully it will provoke people to spend their time inside, to think about the world they want to go back to outside. I often wonder when we are allowed back into the world, what will we find, and what will we have lost?” Biersteker is the founder of Woven Studio, a sustainable art studio focused on helping research groups, universities, museums and architects present data through visual art. + Woven Studio Images via Thijs Biersteker

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"Wither" artistically represents deforestation in the Amazon

Best practices for outdoor exercise during COVID-19

May 12, 2020 by  
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Now that states are starting to ease their lockdowns, outdoorsy and active people are eager to hit the trails or pick up their tennis rackets and golf clubs. But what do you need to know before getting active amidst COVID-19 ? Here are tips to stay safe while enjoying the great outdoors during a pandemic. Picking the safest activities The virus is still out there. So as you venture out of your home, remember to keep your guard up. The safest activities are those that let you maintain physical distance and congregate with as few people as possible — it’s still safest to stick with members of your own household. Related: COVID-19 and its effects on the environment If you must recreate with the population beyond your quarantine-mates, singles tennis is going to be safer than doubles, because there’s only one person on each side of the net and only one other person touching your tennis balls. You can probably golf safely, but a post-golf hang out in the clubhouse is a bad idea. For now, you’re better off avoiding sports that require close contact and lots of hands on the same equipment, such as soccer, basketball and volleyball. Hiking At first thought, hiking seems like the perfect pandemic activity. What could be more socially distanced than trekking through the wilderness? Well, nothing. Except that, depending where you live, half of your neighbors probably had the same idea. Plus, hiking trails are narrow. So what happens when one hiker wants to pass another? Choose your hiking trails carefully. Depending on where you live, trailheads might be blocked and parking lots could be closed. Try to check your local ordinances before you head out. This can be tricky, since websites may not be up to date and conditions can change rapidly. In Oregon, official guidelines currently say, “Be prepared for last minute changes to ensure the safety and health of others.” In other words, rangers may close trailheads or parking lots at any minute if folks fail to behave responsibly. Pick the less popular trails, go early and abort the mission if there are too many cars parked near the trailhead. Have a face mask handy so you can cover up and protect fellow hikers if you need to pass them. Avoid narrow trails on cliff edges, where there’s nowhere to step aside. If your dog wants to come along, plan to hike on a wide trail or in a remote area. If the trails are too crowded, and/or you can’t resist those puppy-dog eyes, consider looking for quiet country roads and going for a ramble rather than a hike. Running Since the gyms closed, the number of outdoor runners seems to have multiplied. It can be tricky to navigate your path as you stay 6 feet away from other humans. This might mean zig-zagging from one side of the street to the other, coming to a dead stop when a group of kids go by on trikes and being highly alert to avoid cars and bikes. You’ll need your wits about you. Either skip the headphones or only wear one. With regular routes suddenly too crowded for physical distancing, it’s also important to be vigilant when navigating less familiar terrain. Distance runners might need to plan their routes more carefully. Being 4 miles from home on city streets and suddenly realizing all the public restrooms are closed — well, that’s not a fun predicament. This isn’t a great time for public drinking fountains, either. So carry a reusable water bottle or plan your route so that you can stop by your house for a mid-run comfort break. Water sports As spring turns into summer , water lovers’ thoughts turn to their local beaches, rivers and lakes. Many water sports are a good option during COVID-19, but this isn’t a good time to take up anything extreme. You really don’t want to have to seek medical attention or be hospitalized right now. Instead, try activities like kayaking or paddle boarding on calm waters. But because even the calmest water can be dangerous, go with your household or a buddy. You can stay in close proximity with the people you live with, but if you meet up with a friend, you do need to continue to practice social distancing. Some outfitters are opening up now for contactless rentals and physically distanced group outings with well-sanitized kayaks. This is a good option if you don’t own the gear. Swimming and surfing can also be done while adhering to physical distancing guidelines. Adhere to local ordinances and, again, go with your household or a friend. Other outdoor exercise tips and etiquette As you venture outdoors, keep your safety and that of others in mind by following local ordinances and official guidelines. If you live in a place where face masks are optional, bring one along in case conditions turn out to be more crowded than expected. Stick a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket in case you have to touch something. If you’re exerting yourself, watch where you are huffing and puffing. People going on a socially distant walk with family or housemates should go single-file if others are trying to pass. If other people fail to observe proper pandemic etiquette, stay calm. Move away from people breathing in your space. Also, remember why you’re going outdoors: fresh air, exercise and the uplifting effects of nature . This is a time to prioritize physical health and sanity, not athletic achievement or personal best race times. So get outside, be safe and try to be kind to yourself and others. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Best practices for outdoor exercise during COVID-19

Superblock of Sant Antoni reclaims Barcelona streets for pedestrians

May 7, 2020 by  
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As part of Barcelona’s efforts to reclaim its car-congested streets for pedestrians, the city has tapped architects to create “superblocks” — groups of streets transformed into car-free public plazas. One such project was completed in 2019 by Leku Studio in the trendy neighborhood of Sant Antoni. Redesigned with attractive way-finding elements and street furniture, the Superblock of Sant Antoni is the second of six superblocks completed to date. The Superblocks Program was conceived as a way to curb air pollution while addressing a lack of green and social spaces in the city. Each superblock comprises nine city blocks and is closed off to thru-traffic, with parking tucked underground. New street furniture, colorful graphics and removable planters are added to encourage walking, cycling and social gathering. Related: How Barcelona “superblocks” return city streets to the people “Where previously there was an urban highway, now there is a healthy street full of life and green, where there was a traffic intersection now there is a livable plaza ,” explained the architects, who implemented the first phase of the Superblock of Sant Antoni in 2018. “Car noise has been replaced by children playing, cheerful conversations between neighbors or elderly people chess games. The transformation continues together with this flexible landscape capable of integrating new changes derived from urban testing and social innovation.” Reversibility was a guiding principle behind the design of the Superblock of Sant Antoni. As a result, the architects created an “adaptive urban furniture toolkit” so that the street furniture and planters — built with eco-friendly materials — could be combined in a variety of ways. The graphic tiles and signage also provide a reference for the arrangement of the new urban elements. The City of Barcelona plans to create 503 superblocks that will eventually connect to one another to create a series of “green corridors” that total 400 acres of new green space by 2030. + Leku Studio Photography by DEL RIO BANI via Leku Studio

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Superblock of Sant Antoni reclaims Barcelona streets for pedestrians

10 ways to celebrate Mothers Day virtually in 2020

May 7, 2020 by  
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With the majority of the country continuing to observe social distancing and shelter-in-place laws, families are beginning to face a new normal of interacting for the holidays. Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, and while most of us won’t be able to see our moms in person this year, there are still ways to celebrate! A silver-lining? Choosing to celebrate from home, social distance-style, can be a win for the environment, too. 1. Have flowers planted in Central Park In New York’s Central Park, hundreds of thousands of tulips and daffodils bloom every year just in time for Mother’s Day. The city is offering a tax-deductible $1-per-bulb donation so that you can plant flowers in the park in someone’s name. After you’ve made your contribution, New York City will mail a certificate or e-card to your recipient letting them know about the donation. It is an inventive way to give your mom flowers this year that will continue to grow and thrive in a natural setting, rather than cut flowers. Related: Mother’s Day bouquet and other fun DIY ideas 2. Virtual 5K Although nearly all organized group runs this spring and summer have been cancelled, many of them have made the switch to become virtual runs instead. The All Community Events Mother’s Day Run Walk is a virtual 5K, 10K or half-marathon race that you can complete wherever you’d like. If you’re social distancing from your mom, it is a great way to stay connected while getting some exercise . You and Mom can choose your own routes in your own neighborhoods or an alternative favorite running route and log the miles together. 3. Virtual wine tasting Make a list of some organic or biodynamic wines, and send a few to your mom to try (don’t forget to buy some for yourself, as well). Start a video call and taste the wines together, making notes of which ones you like the most. Once you can visit each other in person again, it will be fun to bring your new favorite bottle to enjoy together! 4. Virtual brunch Get the whole family together (virtually, of course) by organizing a Mother’s Day brunch via Zoom, Facetime or Skype. Choose a simple, healthy recipe that everyone can make themselves at home, or have each person make something unique. 5. Take an online course together Choose an online cooking, art or gardening class that interests both of you. Learn a new skill while spending time with Mom, and you might even end up with a new hobby to appreciate together once social distancing rules ease up. Udemy has 100,000 online courses and is running Mother’s Day specials through May 14, or you can browse Skillshare for classes in everything from floral decoration to interior design. 6. Meal delivery kit Make sure that Mom is eating well during the pandemic with a subscription to a meal delivery service. The food will be delivered right to her door, eliminating at least a couple of trips to the grocery store. Daily Harvest offers delicious smoothie and bowl selections that you can give through a gift card or send as a nine-item gift box. Some other popular plant-based subscriptions include Purple Carrot and Sun Basket . 7. Decorate Mom’s front door Surprise Mom and brighten her day by decorating her front door for Mother’s Day with a festive wreath or handmade decorations . You won’t have to interact in person, but it will make you feel connected all the same! 8. Online yoga subscription Everyone is looking for ways to stay in shape from the comfort of their own homes these days, and online yoga provides the perfect combination of exercise and self care. Some of the more popular subscription options that incorporate meditation as well as yoga and Pilates are Glo and Gaia , although you can always check Groupon for online specials, too. 9. Tree planting donation Give an environmentally friendly gift that grows by planting a tree in Mom’s name for Mother’s Day. Check out the Earth Day Canopy Project and help in the fight against deforestation with one tree planted for each $1 donated; the network set a goal of planting 7.8 billion trees (one for every person on the planet) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Tree People is offering beautiful, specially designed and sustainably made Mother’s Day cards with custom messages with tree planting donations of $25 or more. 10. Host a Netflix Party Netflix’s new Party feature allows groups to synchronize video playback and chat while watching Netflix together, even from far away. Choose something inspiring like a Planet Earth nature documentary to get excited for when the world opens back up again. Images via Lum3n , Saramatos , Sofia Morin , Petra , Emily Austin and Aiokr Chen

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LEED Gold-targeted library and community park has otherworldly appeal

May 1, 2020 by  
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Toronto-based architecture firm RDHA has completed the Springdale Library and Komagata Maru Park, a new inclusive gathering space for Brampton, a city located about 45 minutes west of Toronto. Designed as a visual contrast to the flat suburban environment, the architects created an undulating landscape of hills that is reinforced by the building’s mountainous form. Surrounded by walls of glass and solar shades, the green-roofed library is powered by geothermal energy and is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification . Completed in the summer of 2019, the Springdale Library and Komagata Maru Park is located on a physically constrained site bordered by a commercial plaza to the east, a main road to the south and a natural ravine to the north and west. Rather than fight the site’s unusual shape, the architects allowed the wedge-shaped plot to inform the design of the library, which was placed as close to the street as possible to preserve the site’s natural topography and irrigation patterns. The position of the library also maximized space in the rear for the neighborhood park, which consists of terraced contemplative gardens punctuated by 5-meter-tall letters that spell out the word “imagine”. Related: LEED Gold-targeted Ottawa library will honor local history The new Springdale branch library comprises 20,000 square feet of library program space as well as a 5,000-square-foot community multipurpose room. Floor to-ceiling windows fill the interior with natural light and are set back from the perimeter to mitigate unwanted solar gain. The windows are etched with a solar-responsive ceramic frit pattern with striated patterns ranging from white to dark gray that expand and contract depending on solar orientation. The undulating roof is punctuated with skylights and creates an “otherworldly” atmosphere. “RDHA designed a project that would be as much about a building as it is about establishing a landscape: from the organically shaped perimeter that joins building and courtyards; and the creation of an undulating topography between the fluidly shaped ceiling and mountainous green roof ; and the sloping floor slab of the interior and the flat landscape of the park,” reads the project statement. The library is also equipped with graywater systems and electric car charging. + RDHA Photography by Nic Lehoux via RDHA

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LEED Gold-targeted library and community park has otherworldly appeal

Open-air Destination Crenshaw museum celebrates the heart of black Los Angeles

March 16, 2020 by  
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At the close of Black History Month, over 2,000 community members, business owners and artists gathered for the groundbreaking of Destination Crenshaw, an outdoor cultural experience to celebrate the heart of black Los Angeles. Designed by international architecture and design firm Perkins and Will , the beautification project will take on the appearance of an open-air, linear art museum that stretches 1.3 miles along Crenshaw Boulevard. In addition to streetscape transformations — including new public artworks, pocket parks and landscaping improvements — Destination Crenshaw also aims to use community-driven means to offset gentrification. Located along Crenshaw Boulevard from Leimert Boulevard to 60th Street, Destination Crenshaw will transform 1.3 miles of streetscape into an outdoor arts and culture experience with hundreds of new trees, 100 permanent and rotating art installations and 10 pocket parks . The project is organized into four distinct nodes that will serve as thematic design lenses. “Improvisation” at W. Slauson Avenue celebrates the community’s resourcefulness. “Firsts” at 54th Street honors past and present black pioneers, and “Dreams” at 50th Street highlights the community’s placemaking abilities. “Togetherness” at West Vernon Avenue focuses on the area’s significant cultural infrastructure, before culminating at Sankofa Park, an elevated outdoor plaza with views out onto Crenshaw Boulevard and beyond. Related: Energy-efficient affordable housing project opens in South LA “Our work on Destination Crenshaw has always centered on the theme ‘Grow Where You’re Planted,’ which is inspired by African giant star grass,” said Gabrielle Bullock, managing principal of the project. “Known to thrive in inhospitable environments, the grass reminds us of the history and resiliency of Black L.A., whose deep community roots have strengthened over the decades despite facing years of root shock.” Over 200 years of black history in Los Angeles will be documented, preserved and exhibited in the project. In the process, Destination Crenshaw will provide construction career opportunities for residents while supporting existing local businesses and regional artists. The 1.3-mile beautification project will run parallel to a section of Los Angeles Metro’s upcoming Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. + Perkins and Will + Destination Crenshaw Images via Perkins and Will

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