General Mills, Danone pilots provide proof for regenerative agriculture success

February 23, 2021 by  
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General Mills, Danone pilots provide proof for regenerative agriculture success Jesse Klein Tue, 02/23/2021 – 01:30 A few years into Danone’s and General Mills’ regenerative agriculture pilots, one thing has become clear: It’s about data collection. Holistically changing our agriculture system to become more sustainable comes later.  “We really don’t have a great understanding of what happens when farmers make these transitions to regenerative systems,” said Steven Rosenzweig, senior soil scientist at General Mills. “This represents a way to get a better understanding of what’s really happening with these landscapes.” Danone recently completed a three-year pilot program for regenerative agriculture on 82,000 acres of farmland. According to Nicholas Camu, vice president of agriculture at Danone North America, the biggest reward of this pilot is the data and subsequent analysis to understand what’s going on in the fields.  The company’s project provided funding — through government grants and fund matching initiatives — to help farmers transition to no-till agriculture and crop rotation, plant cover crops and other regenerative practices. By the end of the pilot, Danone’s farmers planted cover crops on 64 percent of the total acreage and practiced no-till on 77 percent. The national average is 5 percent and 33 percent respectively. They also doubled the number of crop species to 32. By switching to these regenerative practices, Danone hoped farms would restore the soil, foster biodiversity, protect water systems, reduce greenhouse gases and sequester more carbon. But doing so in a significant way to combat climate change will take much more than three years, and probably closer to a generation. So getting the data on what worked and how well it worked is almost more important at this early stage. Danone worked with third-party verification organization EcoPractices to measure the decrease in emissions, decrease in erosion and increase in carbon soil sequestration on each farm. But the reports are not public and data has remained the property of each individual farm, so we don’t really know how the shift to regenerative agriculture practices performed.  But Danone did share that across the 82,000 acres in the pilot, 39,035 acres grew cover crops and 46,378 acres reduced till or practiced no-till. In aggregate, according to Danone, practicing regenerative agriculture in this program reduced more than 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and sequestered more than 20,000 tons of carbon into the soil.  Now with that data, Danone can use its “return on investment” tool to model what happens when farmers implement regenerative agriculture techniques and can use that to convince other farms it is worth the investment.  These pilots are about finding what actually works, and not every method works for every farm. “With this tool that we developed, we can say ‘OK, you need to buy a new tractor to reduce tillage. And we now know that at this farm, it will pay itself back in four years, which gives us the right arguments to talk to the farmers and convince them that this is the right investment and we will help you cover those costs for four years,” said Camu. “That’s all thanks to this data gathering that we can really make specific solutions for specific farms.” General Mills is only one year into its three-year program but it already has laid the groundwork for a massive data dump. The program involves 24 wheat growers in Kansas, 45 grain and oat farmers in Canada and three dairy farms in Michigan. The company took baseline samples in 2019 of the birds, insects and soil carbon levels at each farm and plans to come back each year to see progress. Its overarching sustainability goal is to expand regenerative agriculture practices to 1 million acres by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent by 2025.  “Farmers want to learn from the scientists,” said Rosenzweig. “Showing them how they’re collecting the data and what they’re finding. There’s a huge educational opportunity to transfer that knowledge from the scientists to the farmers and vice versa. The farmers are also seeing lots of things that scientists might not necessarily catch.”  These pilots are about finding what actually works, and not every method works for every farm.  Through the program, General Mills learned that the best science-based intentions can fall flat when they bump up against reality. According to Rosenzweig, the weather is the biggest unexpected challenge faced by any farmer and last year there was a record-breaking dry climate in the summer and fall in Canada followed by a wet spring. The perfect breeding ground for grasshoppers. The increase in grasshoppers created huge yield reductions as the pests ate crops.  According to Rosenzweig, even though the farmers were trying to spray fewer pesticides as part of their regenerative agriculture plan, they had to give in to control the massive grasshopper influx.  “So while [the farmers] are working towards establishing a healthy ecosystem with predator populations and general insect diversity to control against these pest outbreaks, until you have a system that’s really humming, you are still vulnerable to a lot of these pest outbreaks,” he said. During its pilot, Danone also learned that no-till agriculture didn’t work for farms where the ground is tough and full of clay. According to Camu, it compacts too fast and makes it impossible to plant anything without tillage, so they had to dial back up the tillage at those specific farms. Regenerative agriculture isn’t a light switch. Danone’s and General Mills’ pilots and subsequent data gathering are to help farmers slowly start to turn the wheel and break the high barrier of entry to regenerative agriculture. Armed with good data and anecdotal evidence, Danone plans to expand its regenerative agriculture to 100,000 acres over the next two years. “It’s best to let your farmers do the talking for you to the other farmers,” Camu said. “You have to have the right arguments and some proof. Some take the leap of faith a little bit faster than others. But then when you have those, you always have farmers that follow.” Pull Quote These pilots are about finding what actually works, and not every method works for every farm. Topics Food & Agriculture Regenerative Agriculture Farmers Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off The main take away from General Mills’ and Danone’s programs is testing the theories of carbon sequestration. //Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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General Mills, Danone pilots provide proof for regenerative agriculture success

Nestlé and Microsoft on financing circular innovations

February 22, 2021 by  
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Nestlé and Microsoft on financing circular innovations Elsa Wenzel Mon, 02/22/2021 – 01:30 A circular economy looks different within each industry, but its broad vision of healing the harm from the industrial economy’s extractive, polluting original sins is appealing more to a variety of businesses. A small number of influential large companies are creating internal funds to support sustainability goals specific to circular economy initiatives, such as designing out waste and recovering materials from products used internally or sold in the market. The eyes of traditional investors are widening to the landscape as well. It’s an early-stage, sometimes loosely defined space, where many solutions remain unproven, but the long-term payoffs in terms of sustainability and cost reductions could be enormous. That’s the hope of several early movers in circular economy investing, who shared their insights at the GreenBiz 21 virtual event in early February.  Nestlé and Microsoft are among the noteworthy corporations putting considerable investments behind circular programs involving products and services, in service of their sustainability targets and with an eye to spark broader change across their industries. “I would almost challenge people to not think of it as, ‘I have to set up a fund separate from,’ but it’s more of, ‘How do I set up our business to operate differently going forward?’” said Anna Marciano, head of U.S. legal sustainability at Nestlé USA. “If we’re going to make sure that we’re using more recycled content, if we’re going to ensure that we’re going to reduce carbon emissions, then we need to be tracking that. So then our procurement team needs to be monitoring that and they need to be held accountable for all of our ESG commitments.” If you’re going to use more recycled content, you’re going to use alternative materials for packaging, you have to be ready to make the capital investment needed in your infrastructure in your factories. One goal of Closed Loop Partners (CLP), entering its ninth year, is to bring together institutional investors with strategic corporate investors who seek to build a circular economy for their supply chains while helping their sustainability goals. (CLP’s private-equity Closed Loop Leadership Fund , launched in 2018, counts Nestlé, Microsoft and Nuveen among its investors.) “I have heard more in the last few years, probably than ever before, companies talking about investing off their balance sheets to achieve some of these goals, which I think is new vernacular for a lot of companies,” said Bridget Croke, managing director at CLP. Nestlé’s circular recipe Also about one year ago, Nestlé launched its $2 billion sustainability fund , to support companies developing innovative packaging and recycling technologies through 2025. (The company’s first investment was in the Closed Loop Leadership Fund.) The producer of coffee, candy and cocoa also created a nearly $260 million venture fund in support of planet-friendly packaging technologies. Its broader sustainability targets include getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Nestlé’s circular plans include, by 2025, reducing virgin plastics in packaging by one-third and making all of its packaging reusable and recyclable. But goals aren’t enough without something to back them up, Marciano said. “If you’re going to use more recycled content, you’re going to use alternative materials for packaging, you have to be ready to make the capital investment needed in your infrastructure in your factories,” Marciano said. “And so it becomes really critical for this to be a mindset shift to say, yes, this is absolutely what we need to achieve.” Nestlé knew it had to invest in designing packaging for the future to meet its packaging commitments, so it established its Institute for Packaging Science in 2019 in Switzerland. One pocket-size result is new recyclable paper packaging for Smarties candies, popular in the U.K. “That’s really where the strong collaboration, the collective action of financial investments come into play,” Marciano added. ”So we’re really targeting investments to help transform the recycling infrastructure, so we could advance the circular economy at the end of the day.” Microsoft’s circular formula Similarly, as a corporate citizen, Microsoft aimed to look beyond the four walls of its own operations toward suppliers and customers, and other industries it touches, to enable circular markets to grow, said Brandon Middaugh, director of Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund.  Like Nestlé, Microsoft also looks at translating its goals into circular economy action in terms of designing out waste, reusing and recycling materials and products, and replenishing natural resources that it uses — three pillars reflected by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The investment strategy includes identifying and prioritizing the major areas of waste that apply to Microsoft’s own supply chains and operations, including its devices, cloud infrastructure and campus operations, Middaugh said. One new initiative is to build Microsoft Circular Centers  to further the reuse of computer servers and other hardware from the company’s data centers.  “We really recognized that it was not enough to set the operational goal and to do that work internally. We needed to be partnering externally and reaching outside into the market to try to be an advance team for the innovation in the industry,” she said. Microsoft is one year into its $1 billion, four-year Climate Innovation Fund . Carbon, water, waste and ecosystems are the core focus areas for the software juggernaut, which is aiming to carbon negative by 2030, removing all the carbon it has historically emitted by 2050. If you are not going to invest, what’s the cost of not investing? The fund, a joint finance-sustainability initiative, is one of three balance-sheet ESG funds at Microsoft, in addition to others around affordable housing and racial equity.  Middaugh said it’s useful to have a unified playbook toward a single goal, which may lean on products, operational investments, employee engagement and even advocacy, using partnerships in civil society. For Microsoft, the main points are about being carbon negative, water positive, zero waste — and building a ” planetary computer ” that harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend resource protection measures, tree by tree. Tangible examples of these include reducing electronic waste and packaging hardware without waste. “Then it’s also about giving the tools for traceability and transparency that we, our customers, need to be able to track circular economy themes,” Middaugh said. Those areas of strategic importance cascade to the investment strategy as well. How to prove circular success? For traditional investors, sustainability with a sound return on investment is key, according to David Haddad, managing director and co-head of impact investing at Nuveen , a subsidiary of TIAA. “We want there to be an economic viability, because our time horizon tends to be relatively shorter than many of these larger companies.”  And traditional institutional investors are challenged by the need to make a certain return within a relatively short time frame, maybe five or 10 years, which may not be enough for a market to mature.  Ways to reduce the risk around investments can include investing in research and innovation; proving that new business models are moving in a certain direction and integrating that into the business; and exploring longer-term contracts, according to Croke. Nestlé’s sustainability fund is already driving results, said Marciano, who is also division general counsel for Nespresso USA and International Premium Waters. “We have access to more recycled plastic already, we’re able to integrate it into our Stouffer’s business, into our Coffee mate business, into our water business,” she said. “So we see it working already. And it’s only been a few months in.” Middaugh noted that Microsoft focuses on metrics around the use of recyclable materials; landfill diversion in terms of solid waste and the construction and demolition waste at its campuses, and an overlapping focus on embodied carbon. “And in terms of how we integrate those with the rest of the decision process. It’s really around assessing the impact, assessing the risk and then looking for that impact and risk-adjusted return,” she said. For Nestlé, measuring circular economy success involves improving recycling rates beyond the company itself by spurring improvements in recycling infrastructure more broadly, encouraging consumers to recycle too. But that’s tricky. The question of measuring social impacts, not just the environmental ones most companies have prioritized, is another matter. Haddad noted that as an impact investor, there’s no cookie-cutter recipe, but Nuveen works closely with each young company to determine relevant metrics, and any failure to be able to report on those alongside financial performance will make it a no-go for funding. Croke agreed that limited tools for tracking certain metrics related to circular goals are difficult for companies or municipalities, but a bonus to working with large tech companies is being able to identify and address data gaps and useful technologies. Partnerships and collaborations are essential How does a sustainability advocate make the business case for investing toward circular, sustainable solutions? What’s the benefit of leveraging the company’s balance sheet or other capital? Early corporate movers may offer useful examples. Croke noted that some companies may find it hard to identify such investment opportunities and run up against limits to the size of deals they can take on. “And so the ability to invest through other funds helps sometimes open up opportunities to invest in things that might be too early-stage or small that need some de-risking,” Croke said. Partnerships with third-party leaders can help when trying to apply lessons to the rest of the business from initiatives around circular servers, recycling and reuse, Middaugh said. She, Marciano and Croke agreed that no organization should try to go it alone when addressing a systemic challenge as large as growing a circular economy. For example, it’s upon Nestlé to share its expertise in sustainable packaging, collaborating with other stakeholders to make sure it’s not introducing harmful materials into products. Such relationships can improve the wheel in multiple areas. And policy advocacy is another spoke of the wheel for Nestlé. Middaugh added that collaborations should involve early-stage innovations and pilots — such as sharing information with other companies exploring advanced materials — as well as later-stage infrastructure buildout. Microsoft is working with suppliers to update its supplier Code of Conduct to reflect its carbon and sustainability goals, also providing the tools to help its partners meet their goals.  The coming transition CLP draws connections across that ecosystem by backing circular efforts by municipalities, recycling facilities and material recovery facilities (MRFs). It has invested, for example, in Amp Robotics , which offers early-stage AI for recycling facilities, and PureCycle Technologies , whose technology turns polypropylene back into virgin-quality material. CLP started an innovation hub to support pre-competitive ideas. Croke agreed that data points around diversion of material and greenhouse gas impacts, to name just a couple, are relatively simple to understand. “What I think is sometimes more interesting, and a little bit harder to measure is the catalytic impact that’s being had, we’re all trying to completely transform a supply chain, the way that the supply chain works from being linear to being circular, and the linear supply chain is quite scaled,” she said. “The economics are very efficient today.” However, there’s going to be a lead-up time to building up the scale for new, circular models. In time, costs will expand for existing linear systems, becoming less attractive to newly affordable circular ones.  “But what we’re finding is that there are definitely specific investment opportunities today that are profitable, that makes sense for the institutional kind of partners make sense for our corporate partners, and hopefully create the levers that unlock, value and scale for the rest of the system,” Croke added. Haddad advocated for companies to recognize private equity firms as a force multiplier. “We can really bring capital to bear and our experience with boards and governance to scale those things,” he said. Marciano insisted that it’s not necessary to invest millions of dollars to get started. Pick up the phone and talk to people, and take other small steps to explore circular possibilities. “If you are not going to invest, what’s the cost of not investing?” she said. “Think of it that way, and really try to inspire others within your organization to take a chance … What’s the worst that could happen? You asked for the money and you’re told no or not yet. But at least you’ve already planted the seed, that you believe that the money is needed and could make a difference.” Pull Quote If you’re going to use more recycled content, you’re going to use alternative materials for packaging, you have to be ready to make the capital investment needed in your infrastructure in your factories. If you are not going to invest, what’s the cost of not investing? Topics Circular Economy Finance & Investing Corporate Strategy GreenBiz 21 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off  Illustration of circular economy in industry. Shutterstock MG Vectors Close Authorship

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Water joins the commodities market

December 11, 2020 by  
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Water has now joined oil and gold on the commodities market. This week, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange launched the United States’ first water market tied to California water prices. “ Climate change , droughts, population growth, and pollution are likely to make water scarcity issues and pricing a hot topic for years to come,” said Deane Dray, RBC Capital Markets managing director and analyst, as reported by Bloomberg . “We are definitely going to watch how this new water futures contract develops.” Related: UN warns that humans will lose their war against nature For readers not familiar with how futures trading works, Nerd Wallet explains: “A futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell an asset at a future date at an agreed-upon price. All those funny goods you’ve seen people trade in the movies — orange juice, oil , pork bellies! — are futures contracts.” The new water market was announced in September as a reaction to the year’s unprecedented wildfires . Advocates say the new market will quell farmers’ and municipalities’ uncertainty about budgeting for water. People made two trades the first day the market went live. “Without this tool people have no way of managing water supply risk,” said Clay Landry, managing director at consulting firm WestWater Research. “This may not solve that problem entirely, but it will help soften the financial blow that people will take if their water supply is cut off.” But opponents of the new water market scheme say considering water a tradable commodity jeopardizes basic human rights. “What this represents is a cynical attempt at setting up what’s almost like a betting casino so some people can make money from others suffering,” said Basav Sen, climate justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, according to Earther . “My first reaction when I saw this was horror, but we’ve also seen this coming for quite some time.” Via Yale Environment 360 Image via Martin Str

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Can big data, AI and chemical footprinting help the renewable energy sector avoid a toxic waste legacy?

December 1, 2020 by  
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Can big data, AI and chemical footprinting help the renewable energy sector avoid a toxic waste legacy? Krishna Rajan Tue, 12/01/2020 – 01:00 The launch of the digital economy has brought with it an expansion of disruptive technologies such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics that are readily being used to transform the marketplace. But can we also use these breakthrough technologies to accelerate the development of safer, more sustainable materials for the renewable energy sector?  Starting with one of the fastest-growing clean energy sectors, solar technology, this is the fundamental question that a unique collaboratory is asking itself. Three years ago, the Department of Materials Design and Innovation at the University at Buffalo, Clean Production Action (CPA) and Niagara Share created the Collaboratory for a Regenerative Economy (CoRE). CoRE recognizes the critical societal importance of scaling clean energy technologies such as solar to address the climate crisis. But to do this sustainably, we need to collectively scale solutions to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and scarce, unrecyclable materials that impede circular economies.  Issues such as toxicity and environmental impact are often an afterthought in the design phase, which is predominantly focused on improving the technical functions and efficiencies of materials. With more than 78 million tons of contaminated waste related to solar panels expected to hit landfills by 2050, this trend needs to be reversed. To improve the life-cycle footprint of solar panels, big data tools can help manufacturers embed human health and environmental criteria into the front end of the design phase of materials and products. We need to collectively scale solutions to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and scarce, unrecyclable materials that impede circular economies. In a recently released report, “Elements of Change: Moving forward together towards a cleaner safer future,” CoRE outlines strategies for renewable energy companies to: Reduce chemical footprints of products, supply chains and manufacturing; Apply machine learning to design techniques for lead-free panels; and  Use big data tools to rapidly characterize chemicals and identify safer solvents. Safely meet demand for renewable energy technologies Solar energy, along with other clean energy technologies, depends on hazardous chemicals and novel materials to reduce costs and optimize efficiencies. Some of these chemistries are unsafe for the environment and human health. For example, solar energy technologies rely on toxic materials such as lead in solar cells and hydrofluoric acid used in manufacturing processes. This is especially harmful for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals throughout the life cycle of renewable energy technologies from production to disposal. The solar energy sector is not alone with this major challenge. More than 2,780,000 workers die globally annually from unsafe and unhealthy work conditions, according to the International Labor Organization. The United Nations Human Rights Commission estimated that a worker dies at least every 30 seconds from exposure to toxic industrial chemicals, pesticides, dust, radiation and other hazardous substances.  CPA’s work with the electronics sector to driver safer chemical is applicable to the solar sector and all clean energy technologies. For example, HP, Inc is a leader in its work to reduce its chemical footprint, documented by its participation in the annual Chemical Footprint Survey. This survey measures a company’s chemical footprint against best practices. It is modeled on the Carbon Disclosure Project, and is open and transparent, providing solar companies with a roadmap to safer chemical use. Apple uses CPA’s GreenScreen to provide guidance to its suppliers on safer substitution of hazardous chemicals used as cleaners and degreasers in its supply chain. GreenScreen is a leading hazard assessment tool that benchmarks chemicals based on performance across 18 human health and environmental end points. Solar companies can use this tool to identify safer solutions to problematic materials such as hydrofluoric acid.  These leading electronic companies even have teamed up with nonprofits such as CPA and academics to form the Clean Electronic Production Network (CEPN), which aims to eliminate exposure to toxic substances in the workplace. This is a massive undertaking related to the manufacturing of computers, electronics and other information technologies. Solar manufacturers work off a similar manufacturing platform that stands to benefit from the tools and resources that CEPN is creating to do full chemical inventories and safer substitution with suppliers. Solar companies today can adapt CEPN tools and strategies, proven effective by electronic companies, and make meaningful progress towards safer chemical use. But there remains a major challenge for all these companies, notably solar — the time it takes to discover new materials relative to their growth projections. This is where CoRE believes AI, machine learning and predictive analytics can play a role in accelerating the process of material discovery to the benefit of human health and the environment as well as optimized technical performance.  Using big data and AI to accelerate material discovery  The development of high-performance materials typically takes decades, sometimes up to 30 years to commercialize a new material. Big data tools can organize the large volumes of disaggregated information companies need to improve the technical, environmental and social performance of materials. Solar companies that participate annually in the CPA Chemical Footprint Survey to measure their chemical footprint and track their performance against best practices, can leverage these tools to map patterns and impacts necessary for decisionmaking and prioritization. For example, the use of lead in solar panels is problematic in the production and disposal of these products. Electronics companies have shown it is possible to design lead-free electronic products, but solar companies are still very dependent on lead-based technologies. This is true even with the next generation of solar panels — for example, perovskite-based solar panels show the potential to increase the efficiency of panels, but their chemistry is dependent on lead. Rational design is a process that bypasses trial-and-error approaches and creates new materials based on a predictive understanding of the fundamental science governing materials performance. CoRE has demonstrated that “data fingerprints” can provide a powerful representation of the characteristics of perovskite crystal chemistry. This is key to overcoming the barriers to safer substitution for toxic elements such as lead.  Data-driven screening tools and machine learning methods can help navigate the complexity of information associated with new and emerging chemicals used in the manufacture of solar devices. This includes harnessing advanced materials modeling and informatics techniques to identify pathways for the rational design of new materials chemistries for renewable technologies (solar energy) that minimize adverse environmental and human health impacts without compromising functionality. Rational design is a process that bypasses trial-and-error approaches and creates new materials based on a predictive understanding of the fundamental science governing materials performance. Searching for the proper chemistry of materials that meet multiple functionality metrics of minimal hazard and enhanced engineering performance requires us to explore a chemical search space that is prohibitively too large to explore and make critical discoveries within a reasonable time frame using traditional methods. CoRE seeks to address this challenge by applying materials informatics and physics-based modeling to fill the gaps in scientific knowledge, which then guides accelerated materials discovery and design for solar technologies. At CoRE, our goal is to gain a greater understanding of how atomic-scale changes in chemistry have a multiscale influence on materials manufacturing, performance and sustainability of solar cells.  The European Commission recently announced a new chemical strategy for its Green New Deal that promises a non-toxic future for its citizens and a plan for zero pollution. The plan includes new investments for green and safer material innovation. This policy will stimulate demand for greener, safer products; putting pressure on renewable energy companies to think more holistically about their lifecycle impacts. By building on best practices established widely in the electronics sector and leveraging the untapped benefits of AI and big data, solar companies can lead the way for the renewable energy sector in transforming their chemical footprints and accelerating the adoption of safer materials.   Pull Quote We need to collectively scale solutions to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and scarce, unrecyclable materials that impede circular economies. Rational design is a process that bypasses trial-and-error approaches and creates new materials based on a predictive understanding of the fundamental science governing materials performance. Contributors Mark Rossi Chitra Rajan Alexandra McPherson Topics Chemicals & Toxics Energy & Climate Solar Consumer Electronics Technology Collective Insight The Right Chemistry Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Sondem Close Authorship

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Can big data, AI and chemical footprinting help the renewable energy sector avoid a toxic waste legacy?

The best DIY baby food recipes approved by experts

September 30, 2020 by  
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Every parent wants to do what’s best for their baby, and making your own baby food is just one of the many considerations toward that goal. If you’ve decided to learn how to make baby food at home, you may feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, with some information and helpful hints, you can begin creating homemade, healthy meals for your little tike. Pros and cons of DIY baby food An important note: commercial baby food must meet high safety and nutritional standards. So, if you choose to go with store-bought baby food, it’s okay! However, the DIY approach offers many advantages. One pro of homemade baby food is that you know exactly what’s in it. This allows you to skip seasonings, sweeteners or other ingredients that may concern you. If your child has food allergies, homemade baby food also allows you to target potential problem foods. Making your own food also limits waste from pre-packaged foods. Additionally, some parents find the DIY technique less expensive. Perhaps one of DIY baby food’s biggest advantages is the variety of options compared to the store’s standardized selections. Plus, serving baby what the rest of the family eats may help decrease the food battles later on. “The stages of going from exclusive breast milk or formula to eating family foods at about one year of age is very important for setting the stage for a positive feeding environment. It isn’t just for fun,” Eve Reed, Family Food Works pediatric dietician, said. Related: Sumo wrestles sustainability into an all-natural, biodegradable diaper On the cons list, making baby food from scratch takes time, often a significant amount of time. Store-bought foods often prove more convenient for transport and storage , too. In contrast, making and storing homemade food comes with increased safety concerns.  Supplies and techniques Hit up your search engine for baby food making supplies, and you’ll find an endless list of commercial options to make the job easier. For a more minimalistic route, you can use a basic food processor or even a potato masher. Regardless of the tool you use, make sure baby’s food is soft with no chunks. When starting out, the baby’s food will need to stay very thin, but over time it can get thicker. A few basic techniques apply to all baby food. Use steaming, microwaving or baking as your cooking method. Avoid frying. Cook all foods until they are very soft for ease of pureeing or mashing. Safety   When preparing to make baby food, start by washing your hands. Wash and peel produce before cooking and remove all bones and skin from meat and fish if your baby is old enough for those foods. Avoid honey in any foods meant for a child younger than 12 months. Although you can use herbs for flavor, go light on seasonings such as salt and spices that may offend a sensitive palate. Storage One of the best ways to store small amounts of baby food is to press it into ice trays. Once frozen, transfer the food into a freezer-safe container. You can also spoon piles of food onto a tray and freeze for the same effect. As far as serving size, use ¼ cup as a guide, but note that although parents often worry about the amount of food a child eats, it’s rarely a medical concern. According to pediatric dietician and registered nutritionist Judy More, “the problem of most mothers is that they get hung up on the quantity of food that their babies eat. What’s more important is that a baby experiences a wide range of tastes and textures.” What to make Dieticians recommend incorporating the rainbow when planning meals for baby. Make sure to include green foods such as peas and beans along with yellow pears, red apples and orange carrots . You can cook these items in batches over the weekend and make extra to build up supplies. Even better, serve your baby food directly from the daily menu while you’re preparing food for the rest of the family. Jennifer Shu, MD, a pediatrician in Atlanta and co-author of “Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality and Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup” says, “For example, when you make mashed potatoes for the family, set aside some that don’t have whole milk added. You can add a little butter or mild spices. As long as you’re eating healthy, you can give your baby a modified version of what you’re eating.” Similarly, when making sweet potatoes or squash , skip the additions and cook it a few minutes longer until very soft. After pureeing, you can add the food to water, breast milk or formula to thin it as needed. This technique applies to other foods as well. For a simple food, smash a very ripe banana, kiwi or avocado and serve directly. You can easily make applesauce for baby too. Peel and core your apples, cut into small cubes and simmer on the stove with a small amount of water for around 20 minutes. When very soft, puree the apples, put them through a food mill or use a masher until you reach the desired consistency. You can add a dash of cinnamon for flavor. This recipe works well alongside some boxed baby oatmeal, too.  As baby ages Once your child gets a bit older, masters chewing and can handle more variety, you may seek specific toddler and baby food recipes . For that, we turn to Whitney and Alex, two moms who are dietitians and founders of the Plant-Based Juniors community. Affectionately known as PBJ for short, the duo provides a wealth of information on their blog, plus an assortment of ready-to-follow recipes for  plant-based  prenatal and pediatric nutrition. For example, this fiber-rich  walnut blueberry muffin top recipe  might have you happily showing your tot how yummy it is. You can also check out the  Vegan Smash Cake  for a healthier version of a sugary birthday cake, or a vegan take on the ever-popular  mac and cheese . PBJ even shows you ways to sneak budget-friendly, protein-packed tofu into your kiddo’s meal plan. These include sliders, sandwiches, nuggets and a scramble.  Images via Shutterstock

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The best DIY baby food recipes approved by experts

Pixie Retreat: Behind the scenes in a raw commercial kitchen

March 18, 2020 by  
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I’ve been vegetarian since childhood and have met people with many different takes on a healthy plant-based diet. The raw foodists I’ve encountered have blown me away with the innovation it takes to come up with a menu beyond salad while limiting cooking temperatures to no more than 118 degrees. The raw food philosophy is that heat breaks down food’s nutritional value, while low temperatures allow food to retain enzymes and vitamins, leading to the body’s ability to prevent and fight disease and generally thrive. So when Theresa Keane, co-owner of Pixie Retreat , invited me to tour her Portland, Oregon raw food kitchen, I was intrigued. Her team produces a full vegan, organic , gluten-free and mostly raw menu on a commercial scale. Not only do they supply Pixie Retreat’s three Portland retail locations, they’ve also started wholesaling to local stores. Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at a commercial raw food kitchen. The early years Pixie Retreat was built on a dream and a lot of hard work, trial and error. Keane co-founded the business with Willow O’Brien in 2008. At the time, they wanted to make and sell healthful and delicious food , but were new to the dining business. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Keane said. “We never worked in kitchens, Willow and I. She didn’t even know how to make food. She made tea and stuff like that.” They started out sharing a commissary kitchen with other vegan businesses. That’s where they met Anna Clark, who later became their third business partner. Clark, a pastry chef, was the only one with formal culinary training. After 9 months in the commissary kitchen, they rented a house and ran Pixie Retreat out of it, working late into the night while filling wholesale orders. Keane described a time when an engineer acquaintance stopped by. Their setup left him shocked. “We had eight refrigerators, freezers, 20 dehydrators,” Keane said. “He said it’s amazing you don’t burn this house down. Every night, the power would trip off. We couldn’t even turn the heat on because it would trip the power.” A spotless, modern raw food kitchen They’ve come a long way. Now headquartered in Southeast Portland’s industrial district, the Pixie Retreat RAW’r Laboratorie & Makery is both a retail outlet and the site of their commercial kitchen. The small front part has a seating area and a case of premade wraps and goodies. “We’re grab-and-go style, because that’s how people are living,” Keane said. “We’re not a sit down-like service restaurant . We’re into flavor, satisfaction and integrity of our ingredients. Plating is not my forte.” Customers can also custom-order kale- or millet-based bowls and coconut cream puddings with toppings. The millet is one of several cooked ingredients available. A big white curtain hangs behind the counter, obscuring the kitchen. “That’s more for health department reasons,” Keane said, indicating the curtain. “And to protect the magic back there.” We step through the curtain and find three workers preparing food in an extremely well-organized kitchen. It’s Thursday, one of the big assembly days for delivering to the two other Pixie Retreat outlets. Tacked up on the door of the walk-in dehydrator are long to-do lists for each day of the week. Keane introduced me to her staff and to each machine, many of which were specially made or adapted to the needs of a mostly raw food kitchen. The walk-in dehydration room is the most exciting and unusual. Keane opened the door, releasing a smoky smell. Inside are trays and trays of eggplant bacon strips, which stay in there for 72 hours. Pixie Retreat bought the dehydrator from a former kale chip entrepreneur who devised tools to streamline raw food making. Keane estimated the walk-in dehydrator is 75% more efficient than the company’s former multiple-dehydrator setup. Pixie Retreat has a Robot Coupe Blixer, which is an industrial-strength food processor. “This tool is a game changer,” Keane said. “I mean, it’s expensive like a car, but it paid for itself in labor. I love this tool so much.” The company uses it to blend ingredients for pizza dough, macadamia nut cheese and raw onion bread. Pixie Retreat makes raw chocolate in its chocolate machine, melting it down at a temperature of 108. The chocolate winds up in treats like chocolate salted “karmals”, “almond butta cups” and dehydrated, oat-based chocolate chip cookies. Other interesting tools include an Italian fruit press repurposed for squeezing excess moisture out of sauerkraut and a specially made enormous cookie-cutter to cut onion bread into uniform squares while minimizing waste . Raw and vegan at home The Pixie Retreat kitchen is cool but daunting. What about the average person who wants to add more raw food into their diet without shelling out for a Blixer? “Make nut milk ,” Keane said. “That’s where I would start.” You’ll need a nut milk bag, available online or in some grocery stores’ produce departments. She recommended starting with hazelnuts or almonds. For flavor and sweetness, add sea salt, vanilla and a Medjool date. Put it all in your blender. “Kick it up on high. Blend it. Then you put it in the nut milk bag and you squeeze it out.” Dry out the pulp and use it as a nut flour for baked goods. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative After you master nut milk, try making nut cheese. Keane recommended blending buttery macadamia nuts with water, Italian seasoning, lemon juice and sea salt for a plant-based ricotta. Going national Pixie Retreat scaled back from wholesale for a while to focus on retail locations. But it has just relaunched, selling chocolate “karmal”, salted “karmal” and raspberry “l’il puddin” at New Seasons stores in Portland. Made with organic young coconut meat and Irish moss, these raw desserts are packed with nutrients . Soon, Pixie Retreat plans to introduce nationwide cold shipping of the “l’il puddin’”. Currently, customers across the U.S. can order sweet or savory Pixie snack boxes . But Pixie Retreat’s goals go far beyond Portland or even the U.S. When I asked Keane about the company vision, she immediately said, “Global. That’s the dream. We want to be the fast food of the future.” + Pixie Retreat Images via Josh Chang and Marielle Dezurick / Pixie Retreat and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Pixie Retreat: Behind the scenes in a raw commercial kitchen

Reduce food waste with your new best friend Meal Prep Mate

March 15, 2019 by  
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In a world filled with convenient fast-food wherever you go and a focus on instant gratification, it can be a serious challenge to eat healthily and keep your food waste to a minimum. For many of us, our busy lives cause us to make daily food decisions that fill our diets with highly processed foods, which are often wrapped in single-use packaging. But there is a way you can not only eat  healthily , but you can reduce food waste while saving time and money, too. The answer is meal prep. In an effort to reduce food waste, the Save the Food campaign has launched Meal Prep Mate, a free online program that helps with meal prep no matter if you are brand new to prepping meals or a seasoned pro. Save the Food Back in 2016, a public service project called Save the Food began after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) partnered with the Ad Council. The goal was to reduce food waste with a print ad campaign featuring close-ups of different foods that have the label “Best if used.” The ads also included food waste statistics. Now, the campaign is going further with Meal Prep Mate , a free, online resource that helps with every step of the meal prep process: meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and portioning. The new Meal Prep Mate website “walks you through step-by-step guides of ‘what to know,’ ‘what to have’ and ‘what to buy,’ and it allows you to choose pre-designed plans or build your own plan.” No matter which route you take, you can plan your meals for up to five days each week and up to three meals each day. Meal Prep Mate The new website offers four different pre-designed plans that include a variety of dishes from meat-based to vegan  and everything in between. Once you choose how many days you want to plan for and how many meals and snacks you want to prep for each day, the website will give you recipes, a shopping list and nutritional information. There is a bit more work involved if you want to build a customized meal prep plan. You start the same way that you would with the pre-designed plans by choosing how many days and meals you are prepping for. Then, you must select proteins, produce and grains for each meal before getting your shopping list and ingredient quantities. To further reduce food waste, the website also includes ingredient storage tips, ideas for scraps and leftovers  and recipe suggestions. Portion control Meal prepping can definitely help with eating healthy meals each week, but one of the biggest challenges is portion size. Meal Prep Mate aims to help with that by suggesting portion sizes, so you don’t buy too much or too little at the grocery store and prep too much or too little food. Because everyone’s nutritional needs are different, Meal Prep Mate’s suggestions could be too large or too small. The first time you use the tool, be aware of how the portions work for you, and make any necessary adjustments. Getting started with meal prepping Have you seen those Instagram food prepping accounts that look like they prep 21 meals plus snacks every Sunday? They make it look so beautiful in the pictures and seem so easy in the captions. But these posts really just give many people visions of a time-consuming grocery shopping excursion on Sunday morning and hours of hard work over a hot stove. Food prepping shouldn’t be intimidating; you just have to start small. There is no need to prep every single meal and snack for an entire week. Instead, try just two or three days each week and aim for one or two meals each day. Katie Lolas, the expert food prep Instagrammer behind the popular Lady Lolas page, said that when you get started with prepping , think about what gives you the most trouble. “Pick your problem areas,” Lolas said. “For example, if you don’t have an issue cooking dinner, but always seem to make unhealthy snack choices, or you skip breakfast , then spend your time prepping options that will make those times easier for you.” If unhealthy snacks are the biggest problem in your diet , then focus on prepping those. If you always find yourself in a drive-thru after work or ordering take-out every night, then consider prepping a few dinners on Sunday. Yes, meal prep is important for healthy eating and reducing food waste, but it should make your life easier, not harder, said Lolas. The environmental impact of food waste Every year in the United States, Americans waste 40 percent of their food, according to NRDC . That is equal to 400 pounds per person. To make things worse, many Americans toss everything in the garbage, which means the food winds up in a landfill and releases methane. The great thing about food prepping is that it not only helps you live a healthier lifestyle while saving you some cash, but it also is a big help to the environment by greatly reducing food waste. + Meal Prep Mate + Save the Food Via NRDC Images via Shutterstock

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Reduce food waste with your new best friend Meal Prep Mate

Nissan unveils incredible solar-powered mobile workshop for woodworkers

February 15, 2019 by  
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Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of unique van conversions , but Nissan has taken the van-loving world by storm with its new NV300 concept van — a mobile workshop for woodworking professionals. The amazing design, which was a collaboration between Nissan and UK-based firm Studio Hardie , is fully-functioning mobile woodworking studio that can be taken off grid, letting wood-loving artisans find inspiration anywhere they choose. What’s more, the van runs on solar power and its tools are powered by an emissions-free, weatherproof power pack made out of recycled electric car batteries. Unveiled at the Brussels Motor Show in Belgium, the van’s incredible design was created to provide the average craftsperson with optimal flexibility to move regularly between jobs as needed, in a functional and sustainable way. Slated for a springtime launch in Europe, the van will come in various lengths and heights. Related: DIY kits help explorers transform Sprinter vans into rugged adventure vehicles By contrast to the dark exterior, the van’s bright interior space lit by LED lighting is a woodworker’s dream come true. Lined in “lightweight and strong” pale ash, peg boards, boxes, cabinets and cubbies were built into the walls, while the doors have been outfitted for optimal tool storage. A wheeled stool glides on on metal rails to keep it from sliding around. The open interior allows the woodworkers to use the portable workbench inside during inclement weather. As studio founder William Hardie explained to Dezeen , “We decided to create a grid which we could anchor desks, racks and boxes to; this gave the interior a strong and rational form. We then played with our three-dimensional lines, adding or taking away to create a functional Mondrian-esque grid,” he stated. “The designs for the tool storage came from years of site work, thinking about how we work, what tool you want where. We often work in far-flung parts of the country and having such a versatile refined workspace that you can use on site is the ideal solution.” As an energy source, the van conversion operates on solar power and can go completely off grid. All of the power tools run on an Energy Roam battery, an emissions-free, weatherproof power pack with a storage capacity of 700 watt-hours. The batteries are repurposed from Nissan’s Leaf electric vehicles. + Studio Hardy Via Dezeen Images via Nissan

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Nissan unveils incredible solar-powered mobile workshop for woodworkers

This plant-based spray makes fruits and veggies last up to four times longer

March 23, 2018 by  
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How do you preserve fruits and vegetables after harvest? Generally, you need cold temperatures. But what if there were an alternative to refrigeration ? That question inspired Santa Barbara-based Apeel Sciences  to create  Edipeel , a post-harvest protection product made with edible extracts from plants . Inhabitat spoke with CEO and founder James Rogers about the product, which forms a micro-climate around each piece of food so it lasts around double the amount of time it would untreated — at least. Hunger continues to be a pressing problem, and as the population grows, humanity must figure out how to feed 10 billion people. This issue formed the basis of a podcast Rogers was listening to while driving through the Salinas Valley. He looked out the window at the greenery of the valley, dubbed the “Salad Bowl of the World,” and wondered how people could go hungry if we were growing so much food. Digging into the issue, he discovered it’s not so much about growing enough calories to feed the planet as it is about keeping what we do grow from perishing. Related: This company wants to turn food waste into building materials — here’s how Rogers found out fruits and vegetables rot through water loss and oxidation. “As a materials scientist, immediately this rang a bell with how people solve this problem for steel ,” he told Inhabitat. “Most people don’t think about it, but steel is highly perishable. It rusts. Metallurgists solved this problem in creating stainless steel, and the way that they did that was by adding additional elements, like chromium or nickel.” Edipeel creates an invisible, edible barrier to keep oxygen out and water in. Apeel recombines edible oils from plants in blends tailored for different kinds of food; think citrus or avocados. The result is a powder that Apeel mixes with water and sprays on the surface of food. It dries into a thin added peel, creating a micro-climate for each piece of produce. “The result is that it can last two, three, four times longer, even without refrigeration,” said Rogers. Worried about harmful chemicals on your food? So were Rogers’ friends. “They said, ‘Hey, sounds like a cool idea, bro, but we don’t want any chemicals,’” Rogers said. Although food is technically comprised of chemicals, some people don’t always think about it that way, so he wondered, “What if we could relegate ourselves only to using those materials that are found in high concentrations in the fruits and vegetables we eat every day to make formulations to use food to preserve food?” Apeel has been developing Edipeel for around six years now with that goal in mind. “We’re not a large chemical manufacturing company saying ‘let’s manufacture a new chemical to solve this problem.’ We’re looking at it from this perspective of: how do we work with nature to solve this problem the right way — not the fast way, not the cheap way, not the way that sacrifices the long-term health of the planet, but how do we solve this with the tool set nature has provided us?” Rogers told Inhabitat. The extracts for Edipeel can come from any vegetable or fruit. “We’re not looking for any weird botanical extract from some crazy flower in the Amazon,” Rogers said. “The materials we need are ubiquitous. If it grows above the surface of the earth, basically we can use it to create our formulations. The materials we’re using are all inert materials. They don’t have any action in and of themselves; they’re just structural. We recompose that structure on the outside of produce. “ Since spoilage is so significant, the way Apeel prices Edipeel means it’s more expensive for retailers not to have it. According to Rogers, “If you’re a retailer and you’re throwing away eight percent of your avocados, we’re able to price our product such that by paying us, you’re still going to save enough money to pay us for the product.” Edipeel is designated “Generally Recognized As Safe” by the Food and Drug Administration and can be used on organic produce. “As soon as you see how it works, you know that this is going to be a thing in the world,” Rogers told Inhabitat. “Seeing it work, even at a small scale, it was like, ‘This is the future.’ It just feels like an eventuality.” This year, Apeel is gearing up to offer Edipeel to commercial partners. Rogers couldn’t say who those partners might be quite yet, but he did say they are premier retailers. + Apeel Sciences Images courtesy of Apeel

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This plant-based spray makes fruits and veggies last up to four times longer

New NASA tool shows which melting glaciers will affect coastal cities

November 17, 2017 by  
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NASA has developed a new tool  that individuals and communities can use to determine the precise impacts that sea level rise will have on individual coastal cities . This newly accessible information will enable scientists and policymakers to have a more complete understanding of the consequences of climate change in specific areas. “This study allows one person to understand which icy areas of the world will contribute most significantly to sea level change (rise or decrease) in their specific city,” said Eric Larour, one of the study’s authors, in an interview with CNN . While most coastal communities around the world understand the imminent risks to their survival from sea level rise , this tool allows them to plan more precisely for the future. Current projections estimate that coastal communities will face a sea level rise of one to four feet, depending on location. Since the impact of melting sea ice will be felt differently in different places, it is important for communities to have as precise and accurate information as possible. NASA’s new tool, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, incorporates the rotation of the Earth and gravitational variables to more precisely identify how specific bodies of melting ice will impact certain communities. Related: Boston outlines its plans to adapt to rising sea levels To create this tool, researchers conducted a study in which they analyzed data for 293 coastal cities to calculate local sea level rise and the glacial source of this newly liquid water. Glaciers farthest away from a particular city tended to be the most responsible for its sea level rise, due to gravity. “Ice sheets are so heavy, that when they melt, the gravity field is modified, and the ocean is less attracted to the ice mass,” said Larour in an interview with CNN . “This means that locally, close to the ice change itself, sea level will decrease.” Larour hopes that this new tool will empower local communities to make informed decisions as they prepare for unfolding impacts of climate change . + NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Via CNN Images via NASA and Depositphotos

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