Hard truths about tough times

November 18, 2020 by  
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Hard truths about tough times Kathrin Winkler Wed, 11/18/2020 – 02:00 I’m struggling. Back in the day, I had a reputation as someone who always offered to my team a positive interpretation or hopeful outcome to supposed bad news. A Pollyanna, perhaps. It wasn’t deliberate. In fact, I didn’t realize I was doing it until a senior engineer on my team told me, “You’re always so [expletive deleted] positive, it makes me want to puke.”  I wasn’t trying to spin the truth, either. When there is change — that is, nearly always — people often imagine the worst possible outcomes and the most deplorable motives by those in power. People help bring one another down as they wallow in the fear and anger, and sap their own and each other’s energy. I was just trying to get people to consider alternative possibilities, to help them find their motivation, stay focused and know that their work was valued. Play devil’s advocate to their negativity. And maybe convince myself, a bit, too.  My husband thought the accusation was funny, though. Because when I was at home and I wasn’t feeling the weight of responsibility for the team, I gave my own negativism free rein. The angel on one shoulder went to work; the devil on the other came home. The thing is, I’m home all the time now.  I’m impatient with those ‘fighting the good fight.’ They (you!) are undeniably heroes. But it’s not enough. And we’re not often telling the whole truth. I’m not sure how to characterize exactly how I feel. Impatience is a big part of it. We’re obviously not doing enough fast enough to address climate change and systemic societal issues. I can see evidence with my own eyes every time I walk out the door (masked, of course) and encounter the homeless struggling on the street. But I’m also impatient with those “fighting the good fight.” They (you!) are undeniably heroes. But it’s not enough. And we’re not often telling the whole truth. That’s creating a cognitive dissonance in me that is literally keeping me up at night. I know we have to show optimism, but I also see us avoiding the bare facts. People talk about “stopping” (or worse, “stopping and reversing”) climate change. The more circumspect just say “addressing” climate change. But in addition to the climate damage that already has occurred, more is locked in even if we were to stop emitting today. Will the next generation feel betrayed if we “win” the fight and things keep getting worse anyway? People do need hope and to feel that they have agency — that what they do matters. Every degree of global temperature rise that we prevent reduces the long-term risk. No matter what, I know we cannot stop acting and encouraging others to join us. I don’t know how to square this circle.  As for agency — I’m feeling pretty helpless. Not that I tell people that. I absolutely mean it when I passionately express how important it is that they vote, make thoughtful decisions about what to buy and from whom, think about the sources of their food, raise their voices against injustice. But it just doesn’t feel like enough. Once I get going on a task, I’m all in. But when I settle down to work, I find it hard to get started. That’s just me, of course. There are people out there doing critically important things — innovating in technology and business, running for office, motivating others and changing minds. Thank goodness for them. But we’re not all extraordinary, and I imagine I’m not alone.  I am also experiencing huge frustration from the Manichaean nature of public discourse on, well, everything. Truth is gray, but we only discuss black and white. Both sides tick me off. Op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal interpret reduced emissions during the most stringent lockdown as proof that major personal sacrifice is required if we (“the greenies”) act on climate. The sustainability community argues that we can make the changes we need without sacrificing. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between (depending, I suppose, on how you define “sacrifice” — and “happy,” for that matter). For me, the pandemic has highlighted what’s really valuable: human connection; love; health; safety. But yeah, there are things people will have to give up. They are mostly things that won’t truly make them happy in the long run, but that can feel pretty good about in the moment (flying off to the tropics, buying a new car, chomping down on a juicy burger, going to the movies), and relinquishing some of those will feel like a sacrifice for many.  Yet, I’m disgusted with selfishness. There’s a woman in our building who complains that, when the sun is at a certain angle, she can’t get the temperature in her unit below 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change is making air conditioning a matter of life and death in some parts of the world, but 71 degrees in Seattle? Sheesh. Talk about privilege. Maybe I’m just afraid to be optimistic; afraid of a huge disappointment. Scared. Not that I’m not hopeful — I fervently hope things will move, and move quickly, in the right direction. I’m just reluctant to expect it. The political situation isn’t helping. I don’t know the answers. I hate not knowing the answers. It makes me grumpy.  I do find real moments of joy. They come from my friends, my colleagues, my family and nature. From humor and beauty. From gratitude for all that I have been given in life. So, I am coping. I hope you are, too.  Pull Quote I’m impatient with those ‘fighting the good fight.’ They (you!) are undeniably heroes. But it’s not enough. And we’re not often telling the whole truth. Topics Leadership Health & Well-being Featured Column Getting Real Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Hard truths about tough times

Dream of an escape to the off-grid cabins in Kogelberg Nature Reserve

October 16, 2020 by  
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When the team at KLG Architects, a South Africa-based company that specializes in contemporary design, was asked to design a retreat deep inside a nature reserve, the result is architecture that respects nature while providing a safe, comfortable and off-grid space for humans in it. Located in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, 1.5 hours outside of Cape Town, the retreat’s purpose is to accommodate the environmental staff who work on the reserve as well as provide guest amenities, which include a natural swimming pool and several cabins . Related: Nimmo Bay offers a remote, eco-friendly spa experience The challenges were significant with the remote location, including an inability to get large equipment into the region, so the team began by studying the landscape to understand the topography and vegetation. Careful consideration in protecting the fynbos region was a primary goal. With this central focus, the team selected a location for the structures that would have the lowest impact and began sketching designs on paper. In the end, the architects created five two-person cabins and three six-person cabins set in place with minimal site impact , including small concrete supports. Each cabin is raised off the ground, allowing animals to cross and water to flow beneath. A network of floating boardwalks connects the cabins while preserving the natural environment. Pine was selected as the primary building material due to its availability and natural gray fading that allows it to blend into the landscape. Each cabin is situated to highlight the views and comes complete with an outdoor deck with a private pergola for protection from the sun and heat. Inside, small wood-burning stoves warm the cabins at night while strategically placed vents provide cooling cross-ventilation . High specification insulation throughout the cabins further contributes to energy savings. The designers also incorporated off-grid technology such as waterless Enviro-loos. This form of dry sanitation relies on heat from the sun to convert sewage into compost without the use of water, chemicals or electricity. The water that is needed in the retreat is sourced from the nearby Palmiet River, which is treated at a new water purification plant. Full solar geyser systems were used throughout. In addition, green roofs are planted with carefully chosen endemic grasses, which help cool the space. As described by KLG Architects, “The resultant design sits harmoniously in the environment and connects the user to the natural landscape, providing a perfect retreat experience.” + KLG Architects Via ArchDaily Photography by David Southwood via KLG Architects

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Dream of an escape to the off-grid cabins in Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain

October 5, 2020 by  
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Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain Joel Makower Mon, 10/05/2020 – 02:11 First in a two-part series. This story begins, as so many supply-chain stories do, at a mine, the beginning of a journey in which a commodity — mica, in this case — finds its way into an extraordinarily diverse array of quotidian things: attic insulation; brake linings; car paint; concrete; electronic capacitors; epoxies; fertilizers; gypsum wallboard; LED lights; molded rubber; oil and gas drilling fluids; plastics; printing inks; roofing shingles; and toothpaste. And somewhere down that list: cosmetics. The mine in question — actually, thousands of them — can be found in the eastern Indian province of Jharkhand, just over 200 miles west of the cultural hub of Kolkata. Jharkhand — and Bihar, its neighbor to the north — boast one of the world’s richest veins of mica as well as a complex ecosystem of players large and small that provide the shiny, shimmering rock to global markets, including to a maverick California cosmetics company called Beautycounter. But, as the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold. Mica mining has become a growing problem for the image- and brand-conscious cosmetics industry. Its relentless pursuit for safe and effective ingredients has animated a wide range of efforts to understand and, when necessary, improve the sourcing practices for mica and thousands of other ingredients. In some cases, that means substituting them with new, less-problematic ones. Procuring those ingredients can involve complex supply chains, in which families, small businesses and entire communities in far-flung parts of the globe grow, mine or otherwise source raw materials. From there, the materials may wend through a maze of intermediaries: collectors; brokers; distributors; processors; and an assortment of others who ultimately transform them into whatever specifications the market demands. Along the way, materials from one site may be commingled with those from others, complicating companies’ and their customers’ efforts to understand where, exactly, they came from and the conditions under which they were produced. The complexity of tracking and tracing all these ingredients can obscure detrimental environmental and social impacts, from pollution to bribery to slavery. And child labor, in which small children, often recruited because of their ability to fit into small spaces, do difficult, dangerous work for low pay. In some cases, they are the only thing standing between their families and starvation. Which brings us back to mica. In cosmetics, mica is commonly used as a color additive to provide the glitter and shimmer consumers expect in such products as blush, eye shadow, lipstick and foundation. (The mineral’s name comes from Latin word micare, which means to glitter or pulse.) It is also common in skincare products, particularly those marketed as brightening or illuminating, and is used as a bulking agent and to increase viscosity. Mica flakes, photo courtesy Beautycounter Mica is mined in more than 35 countries, but about 25 percent of the world’s supply comes from deposits found in and around Jharkhand, in what has been dubbed the mica belt. Jharkhand is also home to the highest level of poverty in India, which has led children to join the labor force in order to enable their families to put food on the table. About 35 percent of the population of Bihar and Jharkhand live on less than 50 cents per day, according to one report . “The mica in India is optically very distinct,” Leonardo Bonanni, founder and CEO of New York-based Sourcemap, a supply-chain mapping software company, explained to me. “People buy it just like they buy cocoa from West Africa: It has that special profile that they’re looking for. It’s one of the highest quality, if not the highest quality, in the world.” What’s been less chronicled is the arduous journey companies go through to clean up their mica supply chain. In recent years, the story of mica and child labor has been well-told, thanks to investigative reporters, activist groups and concerned companies. What’s been less chronicled is the arduous journey companies go through to clean up their mica supply chain, including the often-grueling work it takes to trace the mineral from its source all the way to products, then make the necessary changes to ensure it meets a company’s ethical and performance standards. And to communicate all this to its customers and stakeholders in a simple, compelling and reassuring way. In that regard, mica is just one of many commodities in corporate supply chains that face social and environmental challenges, not to mention byzantine routes to market, leading to increased scrutiny of companies, and especially consumer brands, perceived to be less than responsible or transparent. And while each commodity can have its own unique challenges, the lessons learned in one can inure to the benefit of others in today’s interconnected business world. School of rock The past few years have brought a rise in concern over child labor in mica mining in Jharkhand. Investigators have documented children as young as 4 — some working alongside their parents and siblings — hammering rock from walls in illegal mines, then carrying heavy loads through slippery tunnels. Above ground, children sort the mica flakes from the rock and transport them to makeshift collection facilities, some of them in abandoned mines. None of them attend school. A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in 2016 found children “dying in crumbling, illegal mica mines … but their deaths were covered up.” A year later, the Indian government legalized mica mining in an effort to allow the sector to be regulated, root out child labor and ensure better wages and conditions for mine workers of all ages. Child labor, however common, remains illegal, and many makeshift mines are unregulated. Children working in a mine in Jharkhand, India. Photo via Danwatch. Cosmetic companies, the most visible consumer brands using mica, have been under pressure from advocacy groups to clean up their mica supply chains, in part, by eliminating child labor. A number of both large and smaller brands have taken on the mica issue, some more effectively than others. Those efforts remain a work in progress. Only about 18 percent of mined mica goes into cosmetics. The electronics industry is the biggest user, with about 26 percent, followed closely by the paints, pigments and ink sector, at 24 percent. But cosmetics, to date, has been the sector most under scrutiny for its mica sourcing practices. Enter Beautycounter . The 7-year-old privately held company, based in Santa Monica, California, sells 150 or so products directly to consumers through its website, brick-and-mortar stores and more than 50,000 independent consultants. Its founder, marketing executive Gregg Renfrew, built the company around an ethos of “clean” and safe cosmetics by scrutinizing even the most commonly used ingredients. “We are focused on safety for human health. First and foremost, that’s our primary platform,” Renfrew told me during an on-stage interview in 2019. The company has banned more than 1,800 ingredients from its formulations due to health and safety concerns. About three years ago, Beautycounter’s concerns began to expand to include the well-being of those in its supply chains. It set out to try to change the sourcing methods for three ingredients it felt were particularly problematic: palm oil; vanilla; and mica. Back to the source To begin, the company needed to understand the provenance of its mica: where it came from and the various parties who touched it, both literally and figuratively, on its way to being incorporated into Beautycounter products. That turned out to be no small feat. “Traceability is the key to expose secrets and make sure that you can actually understand how people are treated when they’re mining or farming the ingredients that you use,” Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice president of social mission, explained to me recently. “And while we commend the work that has happened by some of the other traditional beauty players, we actually didn’t see anyone that was taking what we felt was an adequate dive to really understand how to trace the mica supply chain.” Dahl and her team began to audit their suppliers and realized “just how little has been done to understand where and how mica is sourced and ultimately ends up in products.” Dahl and her team realized just how little has been done to understand where and how mica is sourced and ultimately ends up in products. One relatively easy option could have been to use only mica mined in the United States, which boasts high environmental and social standards, at least compared to those in India, Madagascar and other places that mine mica.  For example, German chemical company BASF operates an open-pit mica mine in Hartwell, Georgia, that it says meets its high standards and has no child labor. The Hartwell mine is the largest source of mica to Beautycounter. But it isn’t that simple. Some of that has to do with the nature of the mineral itself. Mica is the name for three dozen or so phyllosilicate materials whose crystalline structure can be split or delaminated into thin sheets or flakes. Different types of mica are used for different applications, depending on whether the need is for a material to be elastic, flexible, hydrophilic, insulating, lightweight, reflective, refractive or opaque, among several other qualities. Identifying the desired attributes for a given product can be tricky. For example, when used in eyeshadow and blush, the nature and quality of the mica can determine how long it stays on one’s skin. In the case of a tinted moisturizer, one of Beautycounter’s most prominent products, the company tried sourcing domestic mica, “and it just made people’s faces look super shiny,” Dahl said. Another workaround would be synthetic mica, made in a lab, which is said to be brighter and more uniform in color and finish. Several cosmetic brands, such as Aether Beauty, Jane Iredale and Lush, boast that their use of manufactured mica eliminates child labor problems. It’s not a guarantee: In 2016, Lush discovered natural mica in a range of mica pigments it had been told were synthetic. (It can be equally complicated for consumers. Mined mica may be listed on a product ingredient list as mica, muscovite, potassium aluminum silicate or by its chemical name, CI 77019, whereas the lab-made version may show up as synthetic mica or synthetic fluorphlogopite.) Beautycounter uses domestically mined mica whenever possible. “That’s actually how we start our product development process,” Dahl explained. “And if that mica doesn’t perform, then we go to our other vetted suppliers.” In many of those other cases, mica sourced from Jharkhand is the way to go. Dialing for details In 2018, Dahl and her team set out to understand its mica supply chain, including how much verifiable information was available about working conditions and child labor. All of its mica suppliers were able to produce third-party certification attesting to ethical labor practices, but it was unclear what, if anything, was behind those certificates. Lindsay Dahl, Beautycounter’s senior vice president of social mission. “It was clear right away if a supplier even knew where their product was coming from and where it was sourced, because there were so many middlemen,” Dahl explained. “And if you don’t even know where your product is sourced, how can you actually hand us a certificate that says, ‘We feel confident’?” That year, Sasha Calder, Beautycounter’s sustainability director, began asking hard questions about child labor in a series of phone audits. “For some suppliers, there are so many middlepeople that we still don’t know,” Calder told me. “And for those suppliers, we’re no longer working with them because they didn’t have that traceability from the mine all the way to our formulas.” In some cases, mica went through “at least 10 different layers and levels of suppliers,” she said. “That very initial step was the real wake-up call that pushed us into action to say, ‘It’s time for us to take a deep dive,’” Dahl said. One goal of the phone-audit exercise, Calder said, was to determine “if our partners or suppliers were willing to have us on the ground to see whether what they were sharing on the phone was legitimate.” In short order, it was time to go. On the ground Calder ventured to Jharkhand in January 2019 to see what she could learn about which suppliers were in compliance with Beautycounter’s human rights and safety standards. “We found that the mica industry was much more complicated than anything we thought,” she said. “All of our research didn’t prepare us for the complexities on the ground.” Her experience there did not inspire confidence. Beautycounter sustainability director Sasha Calder in Jharkhand. Calder returned home with recommendations for which suppliers were willing to uphold standards and which weren’t, and where and how the company needed to reformulate ingredients from some suppliers or, with others, put in place a set of initiatives to be compliant with both international law and Beautycounter’s own standards. For the next several months, Calder and her colleagues worked closely with suppliers to implement those plans. In some cases, suppliers unwilling to make the necessary changes were summarily dropped. Top-down, bottom-up Calder returned to Jharkhand in November 2019 to see how things were going. This time, she invited Leo Bonanni from Sourcemap to join her. Bonanni is no stranger to this type of exercise, having investigated coffee and cocoa supply chains from Mexico to Madagascar and throughout West Africa. “Mica runs into the same problems as cocoa in the sense that a lot of it is informal, a lot of families extracting mica for their own subsistence,” Bonanni explained to me. “It’s a cash product. You can’t eat it, you can’t wear it, so it has to be traded. And that means there are a lot of vulnerabilities. The people who mine mica might be getting very low prices compared to what it goes for on the market.” With cocoa, Sourcemap keeps tabs on a half a million smallholder farmers in West Africa, where child labor is common. In Jharkhand, Bonnani observed, “You have an analogous problem — hundreds of thousands of artisanal miners of mica. Child labor and malnutrition are endemic. At the same time, these huge multinational brands and even the traders are fully aware that they’re sourcing from these places, but they lack that accountability to the ‘first mile,’ as we call it.” Why don’t we apply those lessons from cocoa, which is not an easy supply chain to trace and monitor, to mica? Bonnani thought: “Why don’t we apply those lessons from cocoa, which is not an easy supply chain to trace and monitor, to mica?” In tracing supply chains to ensure ethical practices, Sourcemap works in both a top-down and bottom-up fashion. The top-down part is something it calls supply-chain discovery — essentially starting with the brand to find out what it knows about its suppliers, and its suppliers’ suppliers, the kind of exercise in which Beautycounter already had engaged. “It’s a cascading process that allows a brand, no matter where it is in the world, to find out where their raw materials are sourced,” Bonnani explained. The bottom-up part is on the ground, as Bonnani did in traveling with Beautycounter to Jharkhand, “Going there and trying to figure out what mechanisms can we put on the ground to actually make that supply chain visible, make it transparent,” he said. Bonnani quickly determined that, while mica mining in India shared some qualities with cocoa farming in Madagascar, it lacked some qualities of the cocoa world.  For example, he told me, “In the cocoa industry, there’s been increasing support from all the stakeholders, including even the local governments, to put in place traceability and to account for risks of child labor. In mica, we are still missing many of the key players at the table — basically the people we would need to put pressure on the producers so that they have to become transparent about where they actually source the mineral. “There’s a huge black hole that consists of a whole series of local warehouses and processors. And that’s where we lose visibility between the mine and the exporter.” Fanny Frémont agrees. The executive director of the Responsible Mica Initiative , she has been working on behalf of her organization’s 60 member companies, including cosmetics and personal care brands such as Burt’s Bees, Chanel, Clarins, Coty, L’Oréal, LVMH, Sephora, Shiseido and The Body Shop. Its membership also includes automakers, pigment companies, chemical companies, pharmaceuticals and other mica producers and consumers. (Beautycounter is not a member.) The group has been working since its founding in 2017 to help companies across a range of industries clean up their mica supply chains. The organization and its members have set out to map the flows of mica, starting at the mines. “Each member’s supply-chain participant must then adopt workplace environment, health, safety and fair labor practices that include a prohibition on the use of child labor,” according to its website. The Paris-based organization tracks 57 percent of the mica exports from India, according to Frémont, and has been working with the Jharkhand government to enforce existing regulations and enact new ones. But Frémont told me that the mica initiative doesn’t plan to require traceability by its members. That’s a blind spot, Bonnani said. “Until we have traceability, we won’t be able to account for any of the risks in the mica supply chain, let alone child labor, one of the biggest ones.” Next:  How transforming the mica supply chain transforms lives I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote What’s been less chronicled is the arduous journey companies go through to clean up their mica supply chain. Dahl and her team realized just how little has been done to understand where and how mica is sourced and ultimately ends up in products. Why don’t we apply those lessons from cocoa, which is not an easy supply chain to trace and monitor, to mica? Topics Supply Chain Consumer Products Leadership 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 School children in Jharkhand, India.   Photo by Mohammad Shahnawaz, via Shutterstock.

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Inside Beautycounter’s quest to transform its mica supply chain

These pendant shades shine a light on recycled materials

May 18, 2020 by  
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Innovative companies around the world are looking at everyday objects in a new light, and custom lighting fabrication and design studio LightArt is no exception. In fact, LightArt is moving “from waste to watts” with its newest line of pendant light shades made from recycled materials . The process began with the question, “What can we do with falloff material?” Finding the answer took over two years of research and development investment, but the result is a line of light-cover pendants made using additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.  Related: This lovely lampshade is made from cabbage Relying on 3D printing , the team at LightArt found the initial trials to be less than elegant. Ryan Smith and his team explained, “This is where things started to get really challenging. When we first started, it did not look polished — it looked like what you might expect when you’re trying to turn garbage into something beautiful. But we kept following the promise of the process and made something we’re so proud of.” Based out of Seattle, Washington, the team worked with parent company 3form and other companies involved in polymer development across the country to hammer out the finer details for the shade designs.  For now, LightArt is recycling waste materials from inside the plant, using new technology to sort out the black and white pieces for the desired look. With this upcycled waste, the company created seven shapes in each of the two shade colors. Diameters change with each shape but range from 8 inches to 12 inches. Called the Coil Collection, the pendants have a matte finish and a touch and feel that resembles handmade pottery. In addition to recycling cast-off materials, the company used PVC-free cord and TGIC-free powder coat for the canopy and interior hub for each of the pendant shapes. LightArt plans to continue in its efforts to produce quality, custom lighting options that are sustainable. According to the company’s website, “Under the guidance of Align, we aim to create net-positive products that will leave our planet in better condition than when we started.” + LightArt Images via LightArt

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How to cultivate employee fulfillment on your team

July 10, 2019 by  
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Driving more organization-wide support for sustainability starts with building self-awareness about your team’s purpose and the impact of the work they do.

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How cleaning your closets can change your company’s culture

March 8, 2019 by  
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As a leader, circularity is going to be a key concept that you will want your team to understand. But how do you create a culture of circularity?

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How cleaning your closets can change your company’s culture

Here are the companies that use social media best for sustainability marketing

February 1, 2019 by  
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What your team can learn from Microsoft, Marks & Spencer, Autodesk and other socially savvy companies.

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Even fish can eat Nuatan, the bioplastic that could answer the plastic pollution crisis

October 1, 2018 by  
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A potential solution to the world’s plastic pollution crisis has recently been unveiled at the London Design Festival. Crafting Plastics Studio, established by design duo Vlasta Kubušová and Miroslav Král, created the all-natural alternative, which is made from corn starch, sugar and cooking oil. According to the team, who researches and constructs cutting-edge materials for their avant-garde designs, Nuatan has the possibility to “replace all the packaging we know,” because it is so safe that even fish can eat it. At a glance, Nuatan may seem elementary in its composition, however, Kubušová and Král spent six years conceiving the bioplastic with material scientists at the Slovak University of Technology. This is time well spent, considering that the composition is enduring, rapidly degradable and safe to ingest. More durable than previous bioplastic samples, the material can last up to 15 years and withstands temperatures over 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). Related: This edible, plastic-free packaging is grown from kombucha starter “For the first time, a fully bio-based, biodegradable material can be considered as a competitor in terms of properties and processability,” the designers explained. Nuatan’s applications are limitless, because the poly-blend is not restricted to blow-forming like traditional plastics are. Crafting Plastics Studio designed the material to succeed in any production chain. “We’re using it for 3D printing , injection molding and other plastic manufacturing technologies,” the team said. Approval of a food-safety certificate would mean that Nuatan could realistically replace all packaging , because the material is biodegradable. Industrial composters would have no trouble breaking down the substance. The possible solution to replacing single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plates, straws, water bottles, cutlery and others is found in the patented combination of naturally derived Polyacid Acid (PLA) from corn starch with Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), which is corn starch that has been processed by microorganisms. Because Nuatan’s composition is not formulated from carbon-based raw materials, “it degrades inside the human body or animals,” Kubušová explained. This biocompatible feature, along with Nuatan’s durability, means that it can be used in nearly everything except heavy-duty situations, such as vehicle construction. At a lower energy and resource consumption value than traditional petroleum-based plastics, Nuatan ticks all the boxes regarding environmental sustainability and climate change relief. Faced with a high cost of production, there is still some time before the new bioplastic will see widespread use. But increased demand could help drive the cost of materials down to affordable levels. “We are hoping to find collaborators who want to include it in the right products, and not combine it with other materials, so it’s a mono-material,” Kubušová said. Faithful to their ethical and capable inception, the team made a very valid point — “If we can find the right collaborators, it can change things a lot.” For a lot of people, a lot of animals and a lot of places on Earth… + Crafting Plastics Via Dezeen Images via Adam Šakový, Andrej Andrej and Lucia Scerankova / Crafting Plastics

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Even fish can eat Nuatan, the bioplastic that could answer the plastic pollution crisis

This scarf protects against air pollution, allergens and viral infections

October 1, 2018 by  
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Air pollution is a major problem around the world, but one company is helping people stay safe no matter where they live. Bioscarf has created a stylish accessory that doubles as a safety mask for people living in places with high concentrations of pollution. These handy scarves help fight against air pollutants, allergens and viral infections, like the cold and flu. Bioscarf offers its product in a handful of colors, including white, black, green and a camouflage print. Each scarf is made from high-quality polyester and carries the company’s logo. They are roughly 7 feet long and just under a foot wide, making them ideal for burying your face into when cold winds breeze by you. While these scarves are fashionable , they also protect against allergens and viral infections. This includes the cold and influenza, both of which are common infections that become a problem every year in larger urban areas. Related: Scientists find air pollution leads to significant decline in cognition The scarves work by filtering out more than 94 percent of contaminants in the air , keeping you just as healthy as a traditional safety mask. According to the company, testing showed that the Bioscarf filtered nearly 100 percent of airborne particulates with a size 0.1 or larger, including pneumonia, step throat, influenza, tuberculosis, animal dander, pollen and cigarette smoke. Co-founder Hazel Solle was inspired to create the scarf after a vacation to China with her family. Her husband, Carlton, got sick overseas, and a doctor told them it was likely because of the air pollution. The doctor recommended they wear masks, inspiring the couple to think of a better solution. Hazel also recalled growing up in Costa Rica and making tiny scarves out of leftover materials for her dolls. The idea hit her that scarves could double as fashion pieces and air pollution masks. In addition to its scarf lineup, the company also has a special program where it donates a scarf to charity for each one it sells — a great incentive for consumers who want to help those in need. “Experts say that over 2 billion kids around the world are breathing toxic air and nobody is talking about it,” Hazel said.“It’s time to not only raise awareness about this issue, but to more importantly give many of the people at risk who don’t have the means to protect themselves something to help them combat air pollution on a daily basis.” + Bioscarf

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This scarf protects against air pollution, allergens and viral infections

Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires

May 31, 2018 by  
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The elevated summer temperatures in California  are causing decreased levels of the low-atmosphere clouds that were once common throughout the southern coastal regions of the state. A new study has found that because these clouds are dissipating from the increased heat, the region is now facing an increased risk of wildfire . “Clouds that used to burn off by noon or 1 o’clock are now gone by 10 or 11, if they form at all,” bioclimatologist and study lead author Park Williams told Phys.org . Due to a warming climate and an expanding urban heat island, cloud cover is trapped in a positive feedback loop where less clouds mean higher temperatures, and higher temperatures mean less clouds. Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters , the new study concludes that there has been a 25 to 50 percent decrease in low-lying summer clouds since the 1970s. “ Cloud cover is plummeting in southern coastal California,” said Williams, “and as clouds decrease, that increases the chance of bigger and more intense fires.” The low-lying stratus clouds in the area typically form in the early morning in a thin, wet layer of coastal air that exists between land and drier air masses. The increased heat from climate change and the urban heat island effect has caused the clouds to dissolve earlier in the day, leaving little cover during the hottest parts of the afternoon. Related: The growing wine industry is threatening California’s Napa Valley To study the changes in cloud cover, Williams and his team analyzed hour-by-hour cloud data gathered by California airports over the past several decades. The data was then compared with vegetation moisture data from the U.S. Wildland Fire Assessment System. This comparison enabled the team to conclude that the decreased cloud cover has led to an increased wildfire risk. “Even though the danger has increased, people in these areas are very good at putting out fires, so the area burned hasn’t gone up,” Williams explained. “But the dice are now loaded, and in areas where clouds have decreased, the fires should be getting more intense and harder to contain. At some point, we’ll see if people can continue to keep up.” +  Geophysical Research Letters Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires

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