Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition

February 12, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition James Woolven Fri, 02/12/2021 – 01:00 This article originally appeared on Circulate News . Measuring financial results, customer retention, productivity and inventory are all commonplace, but these measurements alone are no longer enough to tell a business whether it will stand the test of time. To be successful, it is becoming increasingly clear that businesses need to consider their social and environmental impact — or else be caught out by changing legislation or left behind by customers. What once simply could be written off as a “negative externality” has financial implications and has to be central to business strategies. This means changing the way businesses see their role in society and, ultimately, transforming the economy. Our current economic model is based on extraction and waste. It is linear — we take materials from the planet, make products from them and eventually throw them away. This take-make-waste economic model fundamentally cannot work long term. It relies on the extraction and eventual disposal of finite materials and — to satisfy an ever-growing demand for resources — encroachment into natural ecosystems, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions and staggering biodiversity loss. Alternatively, an economic system based on the recirculation of resources and the regeneration of natural systems offers a way forward that can work in the long term. This model, known as the circular economy, could help tackle the world’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution. The circular economy is underpinned by three principles, each driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and regenerate natural systems. Circular economy is gathering momentum and is being embraced across the public and private sectors around the world. For example, more than 50 global leaders, including CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies, policymakers, philanthropists, academics and other influential individuals, signed a joint statement in June calling for a transition to a circular economy in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In the plastics sector, more than 1,000 organizations have united behind, and are working towards, a common vision of a circular economy for plastics . As organizations begin to make strides in their efforts to transition away from a linear way of doing business and to implement real-world changes, clear and comparable metrics will be valuable for assessing their success and planning future actions. It is vital that we understand how to achieve a circular economy beyond the recirculation of materials. Upstream solutions such as product and service design are essential to eliminate waste before it happens. Jarkko Havas, insights and analysis lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, explains: “Implementing changes can only be effective when we have a clear vision of a future state, an understanding of where we are now and a view of how quickly we are moving between the two states. Measuring progress and tracking changes is an essential factor in the transition to a circular economy.” Measuring the circular economy transition for businesses To understand whether business activity is achieving the aims of a circular economy, business leaders need access to data that measures the circular economy performance of their business, alongside the more commonplace metrics used for assessing the business. However, measuring circular economy performance is a relatively new area and this can lead to misinterpretation of circular economy, with the outcome being well-intentioned incremental tweaks to linear systems, rather than the adoption of truly circular business models. The concept of a circular economy, and what it means for businesses, has been interpreted in many ways. As a result, standardization of the concepts behind circular economy and their inclusion into broader non-financial reporting standards are areas of ongoing work. Measuring circular economy performance also requires data on areas of a business that haven’t traditionally been measured, such as the circularity of water flows or physical assets. Havas adds: “It is vital that we understand how to achieve a circular economy beyond the recirculation of materials. Upstream solutions such as product and service design are essential to eliminate waste before it happens. On an organizational level, we also need to ensure that the circular economy is a part of strategy, risk assessment and organizational targets, to name a few.” In order to measure circular economy performance, it is important to take stock of the concrete results of a company’s efforts to transition to a circular economy — to create a snapshot of the company’s current circularity, in terms of material flows and business models. However, it is also important to look at things that enable the transition to happen, such as senior leadership buy-in and necessary infrastructure. This gives an insight into companies’ circular economy potential. As more businesses have employed circular economy models, a number of initiatives have been developed to measure circular economy performance. This includes the Circular Transition Indicators by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circulytics tool, of which version 2.0 recently has been launched. Broader reporting frameworks, such as the Global Reporting Initiative, also have started to embed concepts of the circular economy. Anna Krotova, senior manager for standards at the Global Reporting Initiative, says: “Since its last revision in 2016, we have updated the GRI Waste Standard to reflect the continued transition to the circular economy. This update will help thousands of GRI reporters look beyond operational waste, towards understanding how their activities, products and services cause or relate to waste impacts, and where in the value chain they are exposed to risk. Consequently, this will enable organizations to identify circularity opportunities and demonstrate to their stakeholders — such as communities, customers, investors and governments — how they are adopting a holistic and progressive approach to waste and resources management.” Circular economy measurement is also an ongoing area of work for Europe’s new Circular Economy Action Plan. The action plan calls for improved metrics to monitor the progress towards circularity. This monitoring should cover the interlinkages between circularity, climate neutrality and the zero-pollution ambition. The Bellagio process is an initiative taken by the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research and the European Environment Agency to respond to this need. We therefore need to focus our attention on more than just the flow of materials, and include also environmental and social aspects. The circular sustainable life should be a good life. Peder Jensen, expert, circular economy and resource efficiency, at the European Environment Agency, says: “Circularity is an idea as old as nature itself. So it is really the linear model that is the ‘odd one out.’ Only by transitioning to a circular model can we ever establish a real model for sustainable development. We therefore need to focus our attention on more than just the flow of materials, and include also environmental and social aspects. The circular sustainable life should be a good life. “The Bellagio principles are a set of guidelines on how to monitor the transition to a circular economy. The principles focus on capturing both the narrow material flow related aspects (circular material use) and the broader aspects linked to the environment and social implication. In this way, it pays tribute to the broadly accepted concept of sustainability and sustainable development.” Havas adds: “At the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we are working on measurement on many fronts: We continue to develop our company-level circular economy measurement tool Circulytics together with our network of companies; work with circular economy measurement standardization as a liaison to the ISO technical committee on circular economy; with non-financial reporting standards efforts; and with public sector actors especially in the EU. Our food initiative has also developed a city self-assessment tool for cities to understand solutions to achieve a circular economy of foods. Our aim is to act as an impartial organization on these different levels of measuring the circular economy, and to bring consistency across them.” Benefits of circular economy measurement Having access to metrics assessing the circular economy performance of a company can have a series of benefits, both for the individual companies themselves and for the overall transition to a circular economy. Establishing the extent of a company’s circular economy performance can be a motivating force to drive faster, fuller adoption of the circular economy. It can empower strategic decision making, helping companies fully realize circular economy opportunities and can help to drive continued progress. The systemic transition to a circular economy creates value and opens up opportunities for collaboration with a view to open innovation. If made publicly available, data on the circular economy performance of companies also can help accelerate the wider transition to a circular economy by giving the financial world a metric on which to base investment decisions. Given that the circular economy is a complex and many-faceted system, making decisions on whether a company is “circular” can be complicated for investors without clear, consistent and comparable metrics. Intesa Sanpaolo was an organization involved in the joint statement calling for a circular economy transition. The bank’s global head of circular economy, Massimiano Tellini, says: “The systemic transition to a circular economy creates value and opens up opportunities for collaboration with a view to open innovation. The change of cultural paradigm generates both a benefit for our customers, in terms of increased competitiveness, and an opportunity for us in terms of advisory and business origination. The renewed awareness of the urgency of this change determined by the pandemic and the opportunity offered by the Next Generation EU plan are key elements for a redefinition of the development model on an international scale investing in innovation and training. “These aspects stimulate a dialogue based on the sharing of approach and information assets combined with the impact capacity of each player in favor of the transition, with the natural consequence of involving more and more actors in a common path to accelerate the transformation.” Pull Quote It is vital that we understand how to achieve a circular economy beyond the recirculation of materials. Upstream solutions such as product and service design are essential to eliminate waste before it happens. We therefore need to focus our attention on more than just the flow of materials, and include also environmental and social aspects. The circular sustainable life should be a good life. The systemic transition to a circular economy creates value and opens up opportunities for collaboration with a view to open innovation. Topics Circular Economy Data Ellen MacArthur Foundation Waste Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Photo by  Freedomz  on Shutterstock.

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Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition

Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition

February 12, 2021 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition James Woolven Fri, 02/12/2021 – 01:00 This article originally appeared on Circulate News . Measuring financial results, customer retention, productivity and inventory are all commonplace, but these measurements alone are no longer enough to tell a business whether it will stand the test of time. To be successful, it is becoming increasingly clear that businesses need to consider their social and environmental impact — or else be caught out by changing legislation or left behind by customers. What once simply could be written off as a “negative externality” has financial implications and has to be central to business strategies. This means changing the way businesses see their role in society and, ultimately, transforming the economy. Our current economic model is based on extraction and waste. It is linear — we take materials from the planet, make products from them and eventually throw them away. This take-make-waste economic model fundamentally cannot work long term. It relies on the extraction and eventual disposal of finite materials and — to satisfy an ever-growing demand for resources — encroachment into natural ecosystems, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions and staggering biodiversity loss. Alternatively, an economic system based on the recirculation of resources and the regeneration of natural systems offers a way forward that can work in the long term. This model, known as the circular economy, could help tackle the world’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution. The circular economy is underpinned by three principles, each driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and regenerate natural systems. Circular economy is gathering momentum and is being embraced across the public and private sectors around the world. For example, more than 50 global leaders, including CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies, policymakers, philanthropists, academics and other influential individuals, signed a joint statement in June calling for a transition to a circular economy in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In the plastics sector, more than 1,000 organizations have united behind, and are working towards, a common vision of a circular economy for plastics . As organizations begin to make strides in their efforts to transition away from a linear way of doing business and to implement real-world changes, clear and comparable metrics will be valuable for assessing their success and planning future actions. It is vital that we understand how to achieve a circular economy beyond the recirculation of materials. Upstream solutions such as product and service design are essential to eliminate waste before it happens. Jarkko Havas, insights and analysis lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, explains: “Implementing changes can only be effective when we have a clear vision of a future state, an understanding of where we are now and a view of how quickly we are moving between the two states. Measuring progress and tracking changes is an essential factor in the transition to a circular economy.” Measuring the circular economy transition for businesses To understand whether business activity is achieving the aims of a circular economy, business leaders need access to data that measures the circular economy performance of their business, alongside the more commonplace metrics used for assessing the business. However, measuring circular economy performance is a relatively new area and this can lead to misinterpretation of circular economy, with the outcome being well-intentioned incremental tweaks to linear systems, rather than the adoption of truly circular business models. The concept of a circular economy, and what it means for businesses, has been interpreted in many ways. As a result, standardization of the concepts behind circular economy and their inclusion into broader non-financial reporting standards are areas of ongoing work. Measuring circular economy performance also requires data on areas of a business that haven’t traditionally been measured, such as the circularity of water flows or physical assets. Havas adds: “It is vital that we understand how to achieve a circular economy beyond the recirculation of materials. Upstream solutions such as product and service design are essential to eliminate waste before it happens. On an organizational level, we also need to ensure that the circular economy is a part of strategy, risk assessment and organizational targets, to name a few.” In order to measure circular economy performance, it is important to take stock of the concrete results of a company’s efforts to transition to a circular economy — to create a snapshot of the company’s current circularity, in terms of material flows and business models. However, it is also important to look at things that enable the transition to happen, such as senior leadership buy-in and necessary infrastructure. This gives an insight into companies’ circular economy potential. As more businesses have employed circular economy models, a number of initiatives have been developed to measure circular economy performance. This includes the Circular Transition Indicators by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circulytics tool, of which version 2.0 recently has been launched. Broader reporting frameworks, such as the Global Reporting Initiative, also have started to embed concepts of the circular economy. Anna Krotova, senior manager for standards at the Global Reporting Initiative, says: “Since its last revision in 2016, we have updated the GRI Waste Standard to reflect the continued transition to the circular economy. This update will help thousands of GRI reporters look beyond operational waste, towards understanding how their activities, products and services cause or relate to waste impacts, and where in the value chain they are exposed to risk. Consequently, this will enable organizations to identify circularity opportunities and demonstrate to their stakeholders — such as communities, customers, investors and governments — how they are adopting a holistic and progressive approach to waste and resources management.” Circular economy measurement is also an ongoing area of work for Europe’s new Circular Economy Action Plan. The action plan calls for improved metrics to monitor the progress towards circularity. This monitoring should cover the interlinkages between circularity, climate neutrality and the zero-pollution ambition. The Bellagio process is an initiative taken by the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research and the European Environment Agency to respond to this need. We therefore need to focus our attention on more than just the flow of materials, and include also environmental and social aspects. The circular sustainable life should be a good life. Peder Jensen, expert, circular economy and resource efficiency, at the European Environment Agency, says: “Circularity is an idea as old as nature itself. So it is really the linear model that is the ‘odd one out.’ Only by transitioning to a circular model can we ever establish a real model for sustainable development. We therefore need to focus our attention on more than just the flow of materials, and include also environmental and social aspects. The circular sustainable life should be a good life. “The Bellagio principles are a set of guidelines on how to monitor the transition to a circular economy. The principles focus on capturing both the narrow material flow related aspects (circular material use) and the broader aspects linked to the environment and social implication. In this way, it pays tribute to the broadly accepted concept of sustainability and sustainable development.” Havas adds: “At the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we are working on measurement on many fronts: We continue to develop our company-level circular economy measurement tool Circulytics together with our network of companies; work with circular economy measurement standardization as a liaison to the ISO technical committee on circular economy; with non-financial reporting standards efforts; and with public sector actors especially in the EU. Our food initiative has also developed a city self-assessment tool for cities to understand solutions to achieve a circular economy of foods. Our aim is to act as an impartial organization on these different levels of measuring the circular economy, and to bring consistency across them.” Benefits of circular economy measurement Having access to metrics assessing the circular economy performance of a company can have a series of benefits, both for the individual companies themselves and for the overall transition to a circular economy. Establishing the extent of a company’s circular economy performance can be a motivating force to drive faster, fuller adoption of the circular economy. It can empower strategic decision making, helping companies fully realize circular economy opportunities and can help to drive continued progress. The systemic transition to a circular economy creates value and opens up opportunities for collaboration with a view to open innovation. If made publicly available, data on the circular economy performance of companies also can help accelerate the wider transition to a circular economy by giving the financial world a metric on which to base investment decisions. Given that the circular economy is a complex and many-faceted system, making decisions on whether a company is “circular” can be complicated for investors without clear, consistent and comparable metrics. Intesa Sanpaolo was an organization involved in the joint statement calling for a circular economy transition. The bank’s global head of circular economy, Massimiano Tellini, says: “The systemic transition to a circular economy creates value and opens up opportunities for collaboration with a view to open innovation. The change of cultural paradigm generates both a benefit for our customers, in terms of increased competitiveness, and an opportunity for us in terms of advisory and business origination. The renewed awareness of the urgency of this change determined by the pandemic and the opportunity offered by the Next Generation EU plan are key elements for a redefinition of the development model on an international scale investing in innovation and training. “These aspects stimulate a dialogue based on the sharing of approach and information assets combined with the impact capacity of each player in favor of the transition, with the natural consequence of involving more and more actors in a common path to accelerate the transformation.” Pull Quote It is vital that we understand how to achieve a circular economy beyond the recirculation of materials. Upstream solutions such as product and service design are essential to eliminate waste before it happens. We therefore need to focus our attention on more than just the flow of materials, and include also environmental and social aspects. The circular sustainable life should be a good life. The systemic transition to a circular economy creates value and opens up opportunities for collaboration with a view to open innovation. Topics Circular Economy Data Ellen MacArthur Foundation Waste Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Photo by  Freedomz  on Shutterstock.

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Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition

How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats

December 21, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats C.J. Clouse Mon, 12/21/2020 – 02:00 The contraption Matt Sheffer wants to show me sits at the far end of a field of alfalfa and grasses, a weave of green and pale gold, broken only by the parallel grooves we’re trudging along, a path carved by the tires of a pickup truck. It’s Nov. 4, and America is in the midst of a presidential election that feels like being trapped, upside down and spinning, on a ramshackle carnival ride. So I’m grateful for this opportunity to escape, to walk on sturdy ground and see all the way to where the earth touches the sky.  I’ve come to Stone House Farm from Brooklyn to learn more about how regenerative agriculture — the nature-based approach to farming generating all kinds of buzz around its climate mitigation potential — actually works. Standing alone in the open field, the solar-powered equipment Sheffer shows me could be mistaken for some sort of high-tech scarecrow, but it has a far different job: to monitor and measure the CO 2 in the soil at this farming operation and research center in New York’s Hudson Valley.  Many scientists and other experts agree that regenerative practices — growing diverse crops rather than monocultures; planting cover crops (such as the alfalfa and grasses) on resting fields instead of leaving them bare; minimizing mechanical tillage of the soil; and incorporating livestock into the crop rotation — lead to environmental and health benefits. The soil becomes richer and healthier, runoff that pollutes water is reduced, biodiversity and habitat for the birds, bees and other wildlife increases, farm animals live better, and the food produced is more nutritious. Early research also indicates farmers using these techniques can reap long-term financial gains .  Still, it’s regenerative agriculture’s potential as a carbon sink that’s driving millions of corporate and investor dollars into soil-climate initiatives, large and modest. And while there’s plenty of room for skepticism when Big Ag gets into the sustainability business, this trend represents something of a game-changer, a level of investment in sustainable farming that never has happened before.  In fact, the current system of agriculture finance in the United States has, for decades, worked against any large-scale transition away from the industrial farming complex it was built to support. Scientists may not agree on exactly how much CO 2 agricultural soil can sequester — in fact, they spend a fair amount of time blog fighting about it. But in a way, it doesn’t matter. Given that American agriculture needs to change, for a whole slew of reasons including its contribution to the heating of the planet , if the hype around soil carbon helps to fuel that transformation, that in itself is a good thing.  Making it rain for America’s farmers Sheffer and his partner Ben Dobson are among those who believe aligning farmers’ economic interests with positive environmental outcomes is the way to remake the farming landscape. This month, they’ll launch Hudson Carbon , an agriculture-focused carbon marketplace they envision as a “farmers market” for carbon credits, where mission-driven brands and individual consumers can connect with a particular farm and buy offsets to support its regenerative transition.  They’re also asking Hudson Carbon customers to pay more, significantly more than the current global price of roughly $20 per ton, which they say doesn’t necessarily motivate farmers. (That price is also far below the low-ball estimate of $50 per ton for the true social cost of carbon pollution.)  “The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation,” Sheffer tells me. “To catalyze any major shift to regenerative agriculture, there needs to be better financial mechanisms and a higher price per ton of CO 2 .” How high? Hudson Carbon wants its customers to pay $100.  Matt Sheffer is managing director of  Hudson Carbon , an agriculture-focused carbon marketplace they envision as a “farmers market” for carbon credits. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse The marketplace is one of a number of new platforms born in anticipation of huge corporate demand for soil carbon credits. In January, Seattle startup Nori raised $1.3 million to fund its marketplace, which uses blockchain technology to pay farmers for carbon sequestration. Boston-based Indigo Agriculture , a similar startup, announced in June a $300 million kitty from its investors, making it the world’s highest-valued agtech firm at an estimated $3.5 billion. The new Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), set to launch in 2022, promises to be the largest. It will offer both carbon and water credits, and planning has begun for biodiversity credits as well, executive director Debbie Reed told me when we spoke by phone in October. ESMC, in fact, will comprise two markets: one where a broad range of companies — from Silicon Valley to Wall Street — can buy offsets to meet science-based emissions reduction targets; and one for “members,” companies with agriculture in their supply chains — including food and beverage, fashion, and beauty and cosmetics brands — that will make results-based payments to their suppliers. Some refer to this practice as “insetting.”  The beauty of insetting is that a company enables its suppliers’ transition from conventional to regenerative practices by providing educational, technical and, in some cases, financial assistance. One $8.5 million ESMC-linked pilot , sponsored by McDonald’s, Cargill , Target and The Nature Conservancy, aims to convert 100,000 acres of land in Nebraska, by providing beef producers technical assistance and an upfront 75 percent cost share. Meanwhile, Nestlé, which is working with 500,000 farmers to support the implementation of regenerative agriculture practices, just announced it would invest $1.3 billion in that effort over the next five years, funds that will go toward sharing the cost of capital improvements and the premium price the company will pay for regeneratively grown goods.  Farmers who want to earn money selling credits — offsets or insets — on these new markets opt into data monitoring and measurement, because payments are based on outcomes such as increases in soil carbon or improved water quality. The Nebraska program is one of a number of pilots underway to test ESMC’s protocols for quantifying and verifying credits. These pilots are also working out potential cost and pricing models, Reed said. The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation. “These major corporations are putting a lot of money into this, and if we can work with them … we can scale impact,” said Reed, who believes having standardized, transparent protocols will help hold companies accountable. “If we don’t work with these companies, and they do it themselves, then we have a patchwork, and it’s really hard to tell [who’s actually successful and who’s not].” While multinational corporations making big announcements get most of the attention, regenerative agriculture is a movement led by farmers and mission-driven entrepreneurs and brands, which have been researching and innovating for years. Of the 670 companies that work with The Climate Collaborative , nearly 300 have made regenerative ag commitments, director Erin Callahan told me. Most of these are privately owned small to midsize companies in the natural products industry. When we spoke in October, Callahan shared that she’d recently sent an email blast asking for progress reports on regenerative ag initiatives. “I thought I’d get five responses,” she said. “And I got 130 in 36 hours.”  One example comes from Happy Family Organics , which learned from two training pilots it sponsored, in 2018 and 2019, that farmers really need financial assistance and ongoing access to mentoring to make the transition to regenerative practices work. This year, the company established a Regenerative Farmer Fund, setting aside $40,000 per year to support up to four farmers annually with new practice implementation. You grow tom?toes, I grow tom?toes  It’s difficult to overstate how crucial both training and financial help are to farmers, because transitioning to regenerative or organic practices is complicated, expensive and risky. It takes time and knowledge. Stone House Farm, which sits on more than 2,000 acres in Columbia County, New York, used to grow corn and soybeans conventionally. A grain farm of this size can expect to run in the red for the first two years of an organic transition, accumulating a deficit of more than $400,000 before turning a profit in year three, according to analysis by the USDA.  The fact that the Peggy McGrath Rockefeller Foundation owns Stone House made its transition possible. An activist in the cause of preserving farmland, McGrath Rockefeller engineered the purchases of various dairy operations that created the farm. When her children Abby, David and Peggy took over, they wanted to rid the farm of toxic chemicals and establish a viable business. The foundation hired Ben Dobson to implement the transition in 2013. Along with his work on Hudson Carbon, Dobson manages Stone House Grain , a certified organic, non-GMO producer that grows barley, corn, soybeans and wheat. The grain company rents the land and facilities from the foundation, which intends for the farm to serve as a model for the region. Dobson’s parents ran one of the area’s first organic farms back in the 1980s. His interest in soil carbon grew from an early fascination with managing large landscapes naturally and in a closed loop cycle. “I wanted to farm like my parents, but they were very small-scale,” he says. “All these organic farms are so small, and that’s good, it’s a great lifestyle. But how do we change this huge land base in America that’s just plastered in chemicals?” To see what he means, look at the stats. Over the past decade, organic food sales in the United States doubled to more than $50 billion in 2019, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2020 Organic Industry Survey . The number of individual organic farms has surged as well — climbing by more than 50 percent from 10,903 farms in 2007 to 16,585 farms in 2017 — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest data , released in October. And yet, there are still only 5.5 million certified organic acres, up from just over 4 million acres over the same time period, a swath of land that represents less than 1 percent of the 911 million acres of total farmland nationwide.  Ben Dobson, founder of Hudson Carbon, also manages  Stone House Grain , a certified organic, non-GMO producer that grows barley, corn, soybeans and wheat. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse Granted, this data does not include regenerative farms not certified as organic. The two farming systems are similar but not exactly the same. Some organic farmers till the soil to control weeds, while no-till farmers sometimes use herbicides. Still, both systems aim to farm more sustainably, and many farmers use methods from both. Often, no-till farmers want to eventually eliminate chemical inputs, while organic farmers are trying to reduce tillage by incorporating certain cover crops, which help control weeds, into their rotation. Some of this is being done out of need, as farmers look for ways to deal with “superweeds” that have become resistant to herbicides.  Dave Miller, founder and CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT , understands well the disconnect between consumer demand for clean, healthy food and available financing.  For nearly 15 years, the Illinois-based specialty finance company has provided leases and mortgages to organic farmers. One of only a handful of companies with a history of specializing in sustainable farming finance — others include Farmland LP and Dirt Capital Partners — Iroquois Valley has invested in more than 60 organic farms comprising nearly 13,000 acres all over the country. Over time, it became evident that limited access to capital was holding back farmers’ growth, Miller told me. So last year, Iroquois Valley began offering operating lines of credit as well.  “All of our farmers want more land,” Miller said when we spoke by phone in April, as he hunkered down on his farm in Iroquois County, about an hour and a half south of Chicago, during the first wave of COVID-19. “We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. It’s great to have a market for your product, but if you can’t get funds to operate and to grow, then you’re SOL.” Frustration with traditional agriculture finance has led others to step up as well. It motivated the 2019 launch of Steward , a crowdfunding platform for sustainable farming that has raised more than $2.6 million for roughly 20 farms, and this year’s launch of rePlant Capital , a new farmer-first financial company that aims to deploy $250 million to producers converting to regenerative or organic practices. RePlant has partnered with Danone North America (another ESMC member), committing to invest as much as $20 million over the next few years to help Danone’s suppliers transition.  How Goliath won the battle for America’s farmland  America’s industrial agriculture system dates back to just after World War II, when federal farming policy began to focus on quantity. The shift to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, along with advances in mechanization, created the type of efficiency and scale the U.S. government hoped for. In a way, some farmers benefited as well, with increased production and easy pest control. But farming families also paid a big price, as the number of farms in the U.S. dropped by half from 1950 to 1970, and the detrimental environmental and health impacts of these chemicals played out. Still, the mantra “get big or get out” stuck — Sonny Perdue, Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary, repeated it just last year . And this policy shaped the country’s system of agricultural funding. Federal subsidies that keep commodity prices low and the federal crop insurance program promote monocultures by making it difficult for farmers to plant a variety of crops at once or to include cover crops in their rotation. Many farmers have taken on huge debts to purchase conventional farming equipment or land, which essentially locks them into the status quo. Meanwhile, banks and other financiers often have denied loans to small operations or organic/regenerative farmers they view “too niche” in their practices.  We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. “Federal farm programs make it more attractive to stay in the system you’re in,” Lisa French, a Kansas farmer, told me during a phone call in October. In terms of federal crop insurance, “you almost didn’t want to tell them you were planting cover crops because it might make you ineligible for payments. …. Or the banker may not want to loan money for cover crop seed because he doesn’t understand why you want that extra expense, when in fact you may be reducing other expenses in the process.” French and her husband grow wheat, sorghum and soybeans, and raise 40 head of cattle on roughly 800 acres near the Lake Cheney Watershed in the south-central part of the state. She’s also served as project director for the watershed for 20 years, because like many small producers, the Frenches don’t earn enough from the farm alone to make ends meet. Intrigued by farming in a way that enriches soil and what that meant for nutrient density in their livestock and crops, the Frenches have used certain regenerative practices for years, but they wanted to learn and do more. So they, along with 23 other growers in the area, enrolled in a ESMC-linked wheat pilot program sponsored by General Mills, one of three regenerative agriculture pilots the company has rolled out in the last year.  A new regenerative normal  To help its suppliers transition, General Mills contracted the consulting company Understanding Ag to provide training and coaching to the participants. They also assigned local regenerative farmers to act as mentors and help build a community. “The opportunity to learn from each other and to see what other people are trying is invaluable,” French said. And having a program focused on one geographic area “tends to bring along other farmers who are not participating because they see many of their neighbors making changes on their farms. The program makes it more likely that farmers will be successful in their transition, and it makes it more likely that regenerative ag is the norm in the neighborhood.” Ray Archuleta, founder of Understanding Ag, has dedicated his life to teaching farmers about soil health. A conservation agronomist, he spent 32 years working for USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) before retiring four years ago. Now he does the same job as a consultant.  “You know how I draw people into my classes? I draw them in economically, and later they start to fall in love with the ecology,” Archuleta told me when I caught up with him by phone in October. “The ecology was always first, then the economics followed, but we switched it around. And they begin to understand.” There is a long-term economic argument for regenerative ag from the farmer’s perspective, if they can just get over the transitional hump. First and foremost, it reduces and even can eliminate the costs associated with conventional farming, the money spent on chemical herbicides and fertilizer. And even though there isn’t a legal or regulatory definition of “regenerative agriculture” yet, consumers already seem willing to pay more for “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” meat, eggs and dairy products, for example, much as they do for certified organic produce.  Some early research also indicates that regenerative farmers can maintain or even improve yields in the long run, because the soil is healthier and can better withstand the severe weather disturbances happening more often due to climate change.  “If you have drought conditions or heavy rain, land farmed regeneratively is more resilient, because with better management the soil is usable again more quickly,” Keith Paustian, a professor in soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, explained. “If you have heavy rain, there is typically more water holding capacity which reduces flooding. And if you have a dry year, because regenerative farm soil holds moisture longer, it’s less dry than soil farmed conventionally.” Cattle grazing on the French farm in Kansas. Photo courtesy of Lisa French Flipping the script to reward positive outcomes When it comes to soil’s potential to sequester carbon, however, any scientific consensus ends. Some declare soil carbon the planet’s savior and others basically call BS on such assertions. As is often the case, the truth likely lies somewhere in between the extremes. “People who say this is a panacea, those numbers are wrong,” Paustian told me. “But in my opinion, and I think the data bears it out, there’s a definite role for soil carbon sequestration as part of the solution [to the climate crisis].” Some people I spoke to seem exasperated by the whole debate.  “I think there has been a bit too much argument about what the exact potential is,” said Jay Watson, sustainability engagement manager at General Mills. “Can we just agree that there is potential, and it’s the right thing to do? I think the General Mills approach has been: We’re committed to learning, but let’s just get started. … The clock is ticking.” Essentially, it comes down to a chicken-and-egg question. Some believe paying for carbon sequestration will motivate a regenerative transition that will bring a whole slew of environmental and social benefits. Others favor cost sharing and alternative financial incentives — payment for water quality and biodiversity, for example — to motivate the transition, which in turn will reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and lead to some amount of carbon sequestration.  In the end, the goals are the same, and meeting those goals requires a realignment of America’s agriculture finance system to one that rewards positive environmental outcomes and discourages destructive practices. Right now, it does the opposite, by not considering the true costs, the unsustainability of the current system or the benefits of a regenerative transformation.  In 2018, Farmland LP, Delta Institute and Earth Economics released a report , funded by the USDA, that found $21.4 million in net ecosystem service benefits using regenerative practices on roughly 6,000 acres over five years. Yet, the system continues to incentivize farmers to plant the same monoculture crops year after year, sapping the soil of minerals and organic matter. To boost production of weak soil, they add more chemical fertilizers, which run off into the water supply and eventually to the ocean, causing dead zones, such as the Massachusetts-sized one in the Gulf of Mexico . At the same time, the U.S. loses top soil at a rate 10 times faster than it’s replenished. And carbon seeps from the plowed, exposed soil into the air, contributing to the emissions rapidly warming the planet. What’s more, it costs U.S. taxpayers a bundle to bail farmers out when they get hit by floods or droughts, or sharp drops in commodity prices. Farmers affected by severe weather and Trump’s trade war with China received more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019, the highest level of farm subsidies in 14 years. By comparison, government programs that encourage regenerative and organic growing practices, such as the NRCS’s Environmental Quality and Incentives Program and Conservation Steward Program, historically have been funded at a fraction of conventional subsidies.  Such policies have been entrenched for decades, and changing them will not be easy.  “Here’s the problem: We have lobbyists … chemical company lobbyists, the fertilizer company lobbyists … they push the senators, and the senators push the heads of the agencies,” Archuleta said. “Nobody wants to touch the subsidies, no stinking way. The Democrats and the Republicans do not have the guts to terminate them.” Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint. After more than 30 years working for the government, it’s easy to understand Archuleta’s skepticism. However, there are positive signs. New bipartisan legislation that would provide incentives to adopt regenerative techniques has been introduced in the Senate, and President-elect Joe Biden recently reiterated his support for climate-smart farming, saying he would pay farmers “to put their land in conservation and plant cover crops.” The think tank Data for Progress also has proposed overhauling the federal crop insurance program to limit the total acreage eligible for coverage, phase out incentives for single-crop planting and create new tax credits designed specifically for family-owned farms.  If they wanted to, large, powerful corporations that have set science-based emissions reduction targets could push politicians toward a regenerative agriculture transition, although it’s still unclear whether that will happen. In the end, the real push could come from the farmers themselves, as they find themselves struggling year after year to produce sufficient yields on conventionally farmed land.  “Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint,” General Mills’ Watson told me. “The current way they’re farming just isn’t working anymore. They’re having to apply a lot more input to protect yield, and at some point, that becomes unsustainable.”  Grassroots grass-fed solutions  Like Archuleta, Dobson doubts real change will come from the top. When we sit down Nov. 4 in the sparse office he uses to manage farm business at Stone House, I ask him how he feels about the presidential election, which won’t be called for three more days.  “I don’t think we can look up for a leader,” he tells me. “The solutions are going to come from people. It would be easier with a Biden presidency to make progress, but I still think it has to come from people seeing a problem and believing we have to do something about it.”  Dobson and Sheffer have been measuring soil carbon at Stone House for five years, and the trends in the data at various sites show the farm is gaining soil carbon at various levels, sequestering CO 2 at a rate of about 7 tons per acre per year. Meanwhile, the trend in the data from the conventional farm up the road, which they’ve been measuring since 2018, shows it is losing soil carbon. This month, Stone House will begin selling credits on the Hudson Carbon marketplace as its first project. The farm and the PMR Foundation plan to divide proceeds from these sales, with the farm’s portion going to overhead, while the foundation’s portion goes to infrastructure improvements and other costs related to its regenerative agriculture mission. The platform aims to add more local farms next year and eventually to go global and include forest carbon credits.  But will companies and consumers be willing to fork over $100 per ton?  At least one company is. Hudson Carbon’s first customer, Light Phone , a New York-based technology startup that makes an “anti-smartphone,” has agreed to offset its footprint by purchasing credits on the platform. Time will tell whether others follow, or whether we succeed at transforming American agriculture before the planet completely falls apart.  I’ve not felt optimistic about our willingness to undertake transformational change and save ourselves in a long time, but something about regenerative agriculture does leave you with a sense of hope — a sense that if we can, one way or another, just get farmers through the transitional phase, replacing our industrial agriculture complex with something better is actually — doable. Pull Quote The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation. We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint. Topics Food & Agriculture Carbon Removal GreenFin Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off The Stone House Farm in New York is home to a new carbon marketplace tied to regenerative agriculture. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse Courtesy of C.J. Clouse Close Authorship

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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats

3 circular economy trends that defined 2020

December 21, 2020 by  
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3 circular economy trends that defined 2020 Lauren Phipps Mon, 12/21/2020 – 00:15 As the year comes to a (welcome) close, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how the circular economy concept has emerged and evolved during this very particular year. Here are three trends that defined the circular economy in 2020, and what they might mean for the year to come.  1. Reuse is on the rise. Despite some setbacks posed by the pandemic (including misinformation about the safety of reusables peddled by industry lobbying groups), the transition from single-use to reusable packaging is building real momentum. With such proof points as Loop’s continued growth and recent $25 million Series A , Algramo’s New York expansion and the launch of the Beyond the Bag initiative, to name a few, it’s clear that reuse is taking hold at scale.  In 2021, I’ll be watching CPG and food and beverage companies, which have been scrutinized for one-off pilots and an overall failure to move quickly enough towards commitments to make all packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. If brands and retailers intend to fulfill their public commitments, we’ll need to see real investment in reuse platforms and systems in the year ahead.  2. Metrics begin to materialize. This year saw the launch of new tools and standards to calculate and track the circular nature of products, business and systems. Notably, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development released the Circular Transition Indicators and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the Circulytics tool; GRI established a new standard on waste ; and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute released the fourth version of its product standard . The bright and shiny narrative of the circular economy’s promise will lose its luster without verified data and material evidence to show that circular is indeed better, and these tools are a step in the right direction.  Next year, I expect to see an emphasis on reporting and consistency of data behind various claims, as well as an effort to fold circular economy metrics into existing sustainability and ESG frameworks. I also will be looking for more actionable datasets and analysis on the link between climate change and the circular economy, and opportunities to mitigate carbon emissions using circular economy strategies.  3. It’s (still) all about plastic. Plastic continues to be the star of the show when it comes to the global conversation about materials management and circular economy solutions. The topic is top of mind for most of us given the increased demand for single-use everything amid the pandemic, which has led to a surge in plastic waste entering into waterways and oceans. But this year also offered a collective leveling-up of our data-backed knowledge and understanding about the flows and intervention points that could stem the tide on plastic pollution.  While source reduction continues to be the No. 1 solution to the global plastic waste crisis, many companies continue to solely address end-of-life management — notably in chemical recycling technologies for plastics packaging and synthetic textiles .  2021 is sure to bring continued tension between the problem of plastic waste and the problem of plastic production and use. I’ll be keeping my eye on the policy landscape and the balance between upstream action and accountability alongside downstream solutions.   This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, Circular Weekly, running Fridays. Subscribe here . Topics Circular Economy Reuse Plastic Featured Column In the Loop Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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3 circular economy trends that defined 2020

What is the role of gas efficiency in the time of building electrification?

December 10, 2020 by  
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What is the role of gas efficiency in the time of building electrification? Alejandra Mejia Thu, 12/10/2020 – 00:30 Transitioning most of our energy uses to clean electricity in an equitable manner is necessary to meet our 2050 climate goals. But what is the role of gas energy efficiency programs as we move to electrify America’s buildings? The short answer is there are still plenty of economic, climate and energy benefits to pursue as long as utilities and their regulators adhere to a few simple guidelines: Prioritize improving the efficiency of building “envelopes”; addressing the pressing needs of under-resourced (low-income) communities and communities of color; and eliminating incentives for building new homes that use gas.  For years, energy efficiency has been one of the energy sector’s silver bullets . Investing in efficiency improvements has held America’s energy use constant over the last 15 years despite a 33 percent increase in GDP, saved households an average of $500 each year on utility bills and created 2.4 million U.S. jobs. As we reduce the use of fossil fuels directly in our homes and buildings by installing appliances that can run on 100 percent clean electricity, efficiency still will be an important tool for avoiding unnecessary electric system costs in the future. Efficiency’s role in equitable building electrification To stabilize our climate and successfully transition to a thriving clean energy economy, we need to eliminate virtually all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the buildings where we live and work. This likely means replacing nearly every fossil fuel-burning appliance with one that can run on electricity generated from clean sources such as wind and power. Given the magnitude of this challenge , we must ensure that none of our energy investments are at cross-purposes to this goal. For efficiency funding that is not tied to a specific fuel — programs that don’t care whether a home uses gas or electricity — this means focusing on and fully funding the transition to efficient, all-electric technologies that are key to meeting our climate goals. It also means prioritizing the smooth, equitable transition of under-resourced and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPoC) communities that have disproportionately higher energy burdens off the fossil fuel system. If we do not prioritize the people who are least able to afford new all-electric equipment in this transition, we risk leaving them holding the bag on a system with a decreasing customer base and increasing costs. As more people transition to all-electric buildings, the costs of maintaining the gas system will rise for those still dependent on it. If we do not prioritize the people who are least able to afford new all-electric equipment in this transition, we risk leaving them holding the bag on a system with a decreasing customer base and increasing costs.   Focus on building efficiency for long-term success Gas efficiency programs are funded by gas utility customers. They commonly offer rebates for new efficient gas appliances and fund weatherization and other building efficiency upgrades. A recent American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report makes several helpful recommendations for improving the efficacy and cost-benefit of those programs. In particular, we agree that “going forward, building shell improvements in existing buildings will be particularly important to reduce costs and emissions,” and that increased partnerships and cost-sharing between gas and electric utilities is necessary to fully realize the benefits of such an investment. However, the report does not suggest how to balance the short-term benefits of some efficient gas appliances with the reality that those appliances will operate — and produced GHG emissions — for 10 to 20 years. One way to strike this balance is to focus gas programs on improving the efficiency of the buildings, rather than on the appliances within them. That includes insulating buildings, reducing air infiltrations, improving ventilation and upgrading windows. Envelope efficiency helps homes and businesses stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, and improve indoor air quality while reducing energy costs, regardless of the type of energy. Envelope upgrades improve the quality of life of residents, especially those living in housing that is in disrepair due to historic underinvestment, and make it easier and cheaper to switch those buildings and residents to 100 percent clean electricity when the time is right. Because continuing to install long-lived gas appliances is incompatible with meeting our climate and equity goals, gas efficiency funds no longer should go toward any fossil gas equipment unless there is a clear social, health or equity concern or crisis that cannot be effectively addressed with efficient all-electric solutions. All-electric equipment should be the preferred solution and all available efforts (including envelope efficiency) should be leveraged to make those clean electric options work for residents. How to avoid locking people into a polluting gas system Gas efficiency programs, like all clean energy initiatives, should prioritize the BIPoC and low-income communities that historically have been underserved . With regards to appliance rebates, this means first and foremost doing everything possible to help these residents move off the fossil gas system while saving money. However, in some cases, largely depending on local weather and electricity costs, providing immediate relief from disproportionate energy burdens and unhealthy living conditions may involve installing new, highly efficient gas appliances. The decision to install gas or electric appliances should be weighed carefully and be based on the following three key factors: The short-term cost to residents of electrifying home energy uses in areas with high utility rates.  A full accounting of the long-term costs of maintaining a safe and reliable gas delivery system. The risk that a new gas appliance will lead to higher energy costs in the future for the customer receiving that appliance.  Continuing to install gas equipment at the same time we’re working to reduce our dependence on all fossil fuels risks leaving the most vulnerable customers to pay the rising costs of an underused gas system. To prevent this, California consumer advocates recently asked regulators to investigate when efficiency programs reserved for low-income customers should sunset their gas appliance incentives in favor of clean electric options. We should be asking these questions about every energy efficiency program in every state and ensuring that BIPoC leaders are helping set and adopt the solutions for their own communities. Building clean from the start is more important every day Finally, we should not be investing any more of our energy efficiency funds on helping new buildings pipe for and install gas appliances. Most buildings that will house us in 2050 already have been built — which is why how we operate and upgrade those buildings today is so important to securing a stable climate future. But we will continue to build new homes and offices in the meantime, and it is vital that those buildings do not continue to further our dependence on polluting fossil fuels. Building efficient, healthy, all-electric buildings will mean lower energy costs from the start . This will be particularly important for affordable housing for under-resourced households as it ensures their energy costs are minimized from the get-go and that they are insulated from having to finance the rising costs of the gas system as electrification of existing buildings takes hold. Pull Quote If we do not prioritize the people who are least able to afford new all-electric equipment in this transition, we risk leaving them holding the bag on a system with a decreasing customer base and increasing costs. Topics Energy & Climate Electrification Energy Efficiency NRDC Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Gas programs should focus on improving the efficiency of the buildings, rather than on the appliances within them. That includes insulating buildings, reducing air infiltrations and more. Photo by  Lisa-S  on Shutterstock.

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Following the money: A sustainable finance odyssey

December 8, 2020 by  
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Following the money: A sustainable finance odyssey Joel Makower Tue, 12/08/2020 – 02:11 I’ve been following the money this past week. “The money,” in this case, is the sprawling and spiraling world of sustainable finance. The occasion, as you may have guessed, was our announcement  Nov. 30 of our newest annual event:  GreenFin , taking place in April. It drew the attention of a number of friends, colleagues and veritable strangers who wanted to discuss the event’s themes, tracks and topics. The ensuing conversations — and, no doubt, many more to come — are a continuation of the learning journey I’ve been on for the past few years, seeking to understand the role of the financial sector in advancing sustainability solutions and a clean, decarbonized economy. For someone who’s quickly out of his depth when it comes to money matters, it’s been a steep learning curve. Even still, last week’s conversations were a real eye-opener. Let me explain. In 2019, when we first started holding our GreenFin Summits — the precursor events to GreenFin 21 — the focus was relatively narrow: the role of environmental, social and governance (ESG) data in the investing world. Specifically, the alignment of company ESG reporting with the needs of investors, particularly institutional investors and pension funds, which are increasingly viewing high ESG scores as a proxy for good management and reduced risk. This by itself is a complex topic. There is a lack of consistency among various ratings methodologies, a cacophony of ESG standards and frameworks, and a lack of clarity about which data is, in fact, material. “So, sustainable finance is about aligning and harmonizing the needs of both investors and companies,” I concluded some time ago. Not so fast. It was soon evident that the topic of sustainable finance was bigger than just ESG and investors. Hence, the addition of sustainability-linked finance — bonds and loans with terms tied to environmental (and, in some cases, social) outcomes. That’s the realm of banks and other financial institutions. “OK, then,” I ventured. “Sustainable finance covers how ESG scores are being used by investors as well as by financial institutions to determine risk and, thus, capital allocation.” I was getting warmer, but just getting going. For one thing, ESG data is just that: data. It must be sourced, verified and scored consistently across companies to be meaningful to investors, banks and other interested parties. We’re just not there yet. Did I mention the cacophony? Implements of instruction ESG data, it turns out, isn’t being used solely by investors and lenders. It is increasingly becoming a management tool as companies take ESG data, both structured and unstructured, and apply artificial intelligence to assess potential business decisions. “They create a virtuous ESG Loop, where goal-setting, bench-marking and course-correcting reinforce sustainability,” wrote Richard Peers, founder at ResponsibleRisk Ltd, a London-based consultancy, in the blog Finextra . Me again: “So, the ESG data that serves as the foundation for sustainable finance is increasingly driving not just investment decisions but also management decisions.” Yes, but sustainable finance is far bigger than just the companies seeking capital to expand their operations or invest in clean technologies and other things. In fact, companies may represent a relative pittance compared to what’s needed to finance public infrastructure: all those airports, highways, ports, water districts and other critical needs for which cities, states, provinces and nations routinely drop a billion dollars here and there. Can ESG data help ensure that they are built in a manner that makes them resilient in a climate-changing world, even mitigate the threats of droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and all of the other calamities in the first place? Sustainable finance can help. There’s gold in all that green: a bond’s quarter- to a half-point lower interest rate for a green 30-year, billion-dollar bond could translate into tens of millions of dollars in lower costs, money that could go to any number of other worthy causes, or into taxpayers’ pockets. Me: “OK, I think I’m finally getting it. Sustainable finance is a way of deploying investment capital to create sustainable outcomes at a societal and economy-wide level.” Well, almost. Financing the transition If you broaden the aperture a bit more, you’ll see a much, much bigger opportunity: to finance the transition of the global economy to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. According to a 2019 report, Climate Finance Strategy 2018-2023 , from the Hewlett Foundation: To put the world on the path to solving climate change, the current level of funding for climate-friendly activities must be tripled to at least $1.5 trillion annually. Fortunately, the multi-trillion-dollar capital sources needed for climate already reside in the current global financial system many times over. Based on publicly available data, it is estimated there is nearly $250 trillion of commercial capital available globally in five primary capital pools (Asset Owners, Retail Bank Deposits, Development Finance Institutions (DFI)/Multilateral Development Banks (MDB), Private Equity and Venture Capital). That’s a monstrous opportunity, and it broadens the definition of “sustainable finance” even further to include vast pools of capital to take on humanity’s most pressing challenges. In other words, the capital it will take to get from here to sustainability. “So, sustainable finance is how we align capital flows with the opportunity to address the world’s biggest social and environmental problems,” I concluded. I’m still not sure I’ve nailed it, but I’m getting closer. At minimum, I’ve taken a much broader view of what sustainable finance means and what GreenFin could address. To be sure, we won’t be addressing all of these things at GreenFin 21; I’m guessing it will take a couple of event cycles to find our footing. We’ll focus, as my learning journey did, primarily on ESG investing and green bonds and loans. But my quest for understanding has helped to create a roadmap of how this event — and the convening power of GreenBiz and its remarkable community — can meet the moment. Over time, I suspect, much of this will become commonplace, simply the way business and finance are conducted. We’ve seen that in many other aspects of sustainability, from renewable energy purchasing to the circular economy. Visionary ideas become commonplace and, eventually, the status quo. And at that point “sustainable finance” will become, well, just finance. 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. Topics Finance & Investing GreenFin ESG Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Following the money: A sustainable finance odyssey

Inside the world’s first VR circular fashion summit: 4 key takeaways

October 14, 2020 by  
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Inside the world’s first VR circular fashion summit: 4 key takeaways Lilian Liu Wed, 10/14/2020 – 01:30 COVID-19 has radically accelerated the need for the fashion industry to innovate. The second edition of the Circular Fashion Summit bears fruit of this new socially distanced reality. The world’s first virtual reality (VR) fashion summit Oct. 3 and 4 was pioneered by founders Lorenzo Albrighi and ShihYun Kuo of Lablaco , a company that uses technology to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy for fashion, and was an official part of the Paris Fashion Week program this fall.  The virtual reality environment was mirrored after the Grand Palais, an iconic architectural exhibition hall at the heart of Paris and home to the famous Chanel shows. Fashion week formats have evolved dramatically during the pandemic — with digital and virtual shows or mixed digital plus in-person elements events taking place. The Circular Fashion Summit continued to push expectations. Participants were able to not just consume fashion content but also discuss, network and learn from others joining from around the globe —as long as they had a VR headset and an internet connection. Global apparel and footwear consumption is expected to grow by 81 percent by 2030, according to Global Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting Group . Under its current carbon emissions reduction trajectory, the fashion industry is projected to miss the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway by 50 percent, according to a recent study from McKinsey and the Global Fashion Agenda . Clearly, COVID-19 is no time for inaction. Originally planned as an in-person gathering, the Circular Fashion Summit team decided to host the summit in virtual reality — just like being at a real event but without the footprint of travel, and in the shape of your customized avatar. A screenshot shows panelists for a talk during the Circular Fashion Summit. Attendee avatars can be seen. Screenshot courtesy of Lilian Liu. 4 summit takeaways 1. Digital technologies are opening up new ways for us to consume fashion without the waste or carbon footprint…  During the “Technology: The New Product Storytelling” panel, it was astoundingly clear that emerging digital technologies can make a big difference for fashion brands and their customers. “Now that we socially-distance, we need different ways of engaging with audiences, from the first point of creation and design to retail and engaging the consumer. Digital and 3D is becoming integral for every fashion brand,” said Matthew Drinkwater, head of Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion. As the technology gets better, digital prototypes of garments are becoming much closer to the real thing, and you can get feedback on early iterations to save material and time in producing real prototypes.  As fashion is transitioning to digital, the lines between industries have started to blur even more, and the relationship between fashion and the gaming industry has grown. Agatha Hood, head of advertising sales at Unity Technologies , a software development company that specializes in creating and operating interactive real-time 3D content, shared that 25 percent of in-game purchases in the U.S. are being spent on customizing personal avatars, characters or the virtual space.  After the conference, Hood added: “While VR is obviously a great way for both consumers and industry experts to view and explore fashion, another medium that makes us really excited is augmented reality. Being able to view fabrics, textures, designs in real life through a device really brings the products to life — to say nothing of the ability to try fashion on.” The technology already exists for us to interact with digital objects as a seamless part of the real world. In the future, we are likely to see more designers creating fashion in a digital format, making it easily available for consumers to engage in self-expression without buying new physical clothing — lowering the environmental and social footprint of fashion significantly. Virtual consumption could help us curb our everlasting appetite of buying physical clothing while keeping the creativity and fun of fashion alive. 2. …with an emphasis on the need for new skills, and a reminder that the transition to digital fashion needs to be inclusive. With stronger digital integration, we are rapidly seeing the need for education and new skills in the fashion workforce. Drinkwater pointed out the large generational gap in this regard. “A few years ago [fashion] students couldn’t leverage [digital creation platforms] such as Unity or Unreal Engine, but now they can and it makes a difference.”  From a global perspective, Omoyemi Akerele, founder of Style House Files , a creative development agency for Nigerian and African designers, and Lagos Fashion and Design Week, reminded attendees that we need to ensure that the transition is inclusive. “The future lies in virtual platforms; however, it’s important that nobody is left behind. The socio-economic impacts and value that fashion creates will go away from some,” she said.  Global apparel and footwear consumption is expected to grow by 81% by 2030 and under its current carbon emissions reduction trajectory, the fashion industry is projected to miss the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway by 50%. In the move from physical to virtual engagement, education will be critical. “We need to be able to empower everyone, where a virtual fashion economy still gives opportunity for meaningful employment and meaningful work for many,” Akerele said.  3. To accelerate progress on circularity, we need investment, expertise and a whole lot of collective action. During the “Sustainability: Turning Circularity into Business” panel, speakers discussed the barriers of circularity and how we can overcome them. More investments to scale circular innovation are critical. There is also a need for accessing information and expertise to unlock circular solutions. “Right now a handful of experts have the knowledge, and we need to give access to this expertise to more people,” said Nina Shariati, sustainability strategist at H&M who founded the pro-bono consultancy Doughnate Hour to help bring circularity expertise to brands.  Most strikingly, radical collaboration was the ingredient that was repeated again and again. The only way to overcome barriers in knowledge and scaling these innovations is if brands work pre-competitively and actively collaborate with policymakers and circularity experts.  To embody this philosophy, the Circular Fashion Summit promised to do more than just convene conversations and plans to take collective action. It has set three Action Goals to be achieved by 2021: recirculate 100,000 fashion item; tokenize 10,000 fashion items on the blockchain; and upcycle 1,000 pairs of sneakers. Perhaps it is time that we redefine the circular economy not as a siloed environmental issue but recognize the interconnected social impacts that circular business models could have. The goals are powered by Lablaco technology and will be achieved together with the summit attendees (“Catalysts”). For example, The Lane Crawford Joyce Group ’s social initiative Luxarity launched a resale initiative featuring pre-loved items from celebrity closets, with Lablaco tokenizing the items on the blockchain to help achieve the goals. Unilever is partnering with the blockchain powered peer-to-peer platform Swapchain to recirculate fashion. A partnership with Plastic Bank is also underway, in which the summit team is launching a recycled sunglasses collection. All in all, achieving the goals will save an estimated 2,000 metric tons of CO2 and 793,000 gallons of water from landfill. 4. Circular fashion can be more than closing the loop. Going beyond neutrality, companies can embrace regenerative practices and the social benefits of a circular economy.  Maggie Hewitt, founder of fashion company Maggie Marilyn , emphasized the need for brands to embrace regenerative practices. “The idea that we only have 60 years of top soil left if we continue to degrade our soil is scary. We will need to regenerate our soil if we want to be a lasting business,” she said.   The circular economy is often is seen through a lens of waste reduction and ensuring that materials go back into a circular system. Although Ellen MacArthur Foundation ’s definition of circular economy includes the concept “regenerate natural systems,” regeneration doesn’t get as much attention. To achieve real progress from circular solutions, we need to think beyond neutral and aim for positive impact. Another highlight is how circular business models can be used to increase access and inclusion to fashion, well-being and even economic opportunity. As Darren Shooter, design director at The North Face , shared, the company successfully piloted a rental service for tents and backpacks. “This opened up products to consumers that might not afford or have space for outdoor gear at home to still experience the outdoors. This rental pilot went really well and we are trying to scale it further to see how we can give people even more access to the outdoors,” he said, highlighting the human side and social benefits of a circular economy. It’s clear that the potential of new technologies to bring forward more sustainable ways of consuming fashion is endless. Smart fashion brands and innovators such as Lablaco and the Circular Fashion Summit are at the forefront of capturing this opportunity. In the same way that the summit presented a glimpse of our technological fashion future, it also opened up for the notion that we need to continue to push our circular impact and ambition. Perhaps it is time that we redefine the circular economy not as a siloed environmental issue but recognize the interconnected social impacts that circular business models could have. So, how did I feel attending my first VR summit? As I was teleporting between stages and exhibition hubs, I couldn’t help but wonder if we will ever gather as normal again, getting on an airplane instead of putting on a headset in my living room. With over 300 people getting up to speed with VR, which was a first for many, there were the inevitable tech glitches here and there, such as reboots of the system (and even some spontaneous dancing on stage!). Still, so much more engaging and fun than being on a zoom call. Would I do it again? Absolutely.  Pull Quote Global apparel and footwear consumption is expected to grow by 81% by 2030 and under its current carbon emissions reduction trajectory, the fashion industry is projected to miss the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway by 50%. Perhaps it is time that we redefine the circular economy not as a siloed environmental issue but recognize the interconnected social impacts that circular business models could have. Topics Circular Economy Fashion Virtual Reality 30 Under 30 Collective Insight 30 Under 30 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Photo by  franz12  on Shutterstock.

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Inside the world’s first VR circular fashion summit: 4 key takeaways

Workplace EV charging: Lessons from sustainability trailblazers

July 14, 2020 by  
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Workplace EV charging: Lessons from sustainability trailblazers Marsha Willard Tue, 07/14/2020 – 01:30 Businesses are reaping the environmental and social benefits of providing electric vehicle charging for employees. That’s according to research published last week by Presidio Graduate School (PGS) and ChargePoint, providers of the world’s largest EV charging network. Last fall, a research team from PGS conducted a study on workplace electric vehicle charging practices. In addition to a review of the current literature, the team interviewed sustainability leaders in 24 organizations across the United States. The findings reveal that while still most common in Europe and in U.S. coastal states, the speed of EV adoption makes creating the charging infrastructure an imperative for both the public and private sector. Leading organizations have made a solid business case for providing workplace charging and other EV related employee incentives or benefits. Below are some key findings of the study: Employers recognize that demand for charging will only grow; in many cities such as Portland and San Francisco EV charging in workplace parking lots is already both an expectation of employees and a city mandate. Business plays an important role in facilitating EV adoption; providing EV charging to employees is increasingly easy to justify to corporate executives.  Providing charging at the workplace increases employee satisfaction and makes it easier to attract and retain workers. Supporting EV commuting and investing in EV fleets help organizations meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets.  Employers are worried less about upfront costs and are thinking long-term about strategies to optimize their investment.  Key strategies to maximize benefit To get the most out of the investment in workplace charging stations, the corporation and other organizations participating in this research study focused on these four key implementation strategies: 1. Assure availability What the study participants learned is that while you may not see a lot of EVs in your parking lots now, they are coming and they catch on faster once workplace chargers become available. Bank of America, for example, saw a 50 percent increase in the number of EV commuters in just one year after installing chargers, reinforcing the theory that EV adoption is mostly hindered by a concern about being able to charge away from home. In trying to determine how many chargers to provide, the participating organizations often underestimated the demand and recommended thinking ahead when planning. Once available, chargers become an important amenity to employees. Study participants reported not only increased satisfaction with the workplace, but ncreasingly, an expectation that chargers be available making them part of nearly all our participating organizations’ recruiting and retention packages. In trying to determine how many chargers to provide, the participating organizations often underestimated the demand and recommended thinking ahead when planning. Some progressive cities such as Salt Lake City and Duluth, Minnesota  are beginning to mandate chargers in all new construction. The required number varies from 1 to 5 percent of spaces depending on the jurisdiction. Forward-thinking businesses, such as those in our study, believe these requirements are conservative and plan to expand the number of available chargers. LinkedIn, for example, which covers about 10 percent of parking spaces with EV chargers, is building toward a target of 20 percent. 2. Allow dynamic pricing Most study participants saw value in providing free charging for employees. What they have learned is that it not only builds employee satisfaction, but also encourages EV adoption. While there is a strong commitment to providing free charging, an increasing number of organizations are opting to charge fees for lingering at the stations. In an effort to optimize the use of the charging stations, it is common to assess a fee after a car has been parked at a charger for more than four hours. This is made possible by using “smart” chargers — chargers connected to a network that allows managers to not only tailor fee structures but to send alerts to users as well as monitor usage and capture greenhouse gas-related data.  3. Optimize energy management Study participants understood that the expected increase in demand for workplace charging will require more attention to power management. In addition to meeting the extra demand without over-tapping their capacity, they also want to assure the most efficient use of the charging infrastructure. Power management features available on some chargers enable site managers to maximize the number of charging ports before having to upgrade existing wiring or panels. These systems also enable management to assure that charging EVs never exceed the maximum aggregate electrical load, thus avoiding potential peak load charges. These systems also enable managers to control when and how much energy is being tapped to maximize consumption during those times of the day when renewable power is most plentiful. Organizations serious about using an EV program to lower their carbon footprints may find an increasing need to invest in renewable power. 4. Source from renewable power Most study participants power their chargers with lines from their existing building panels, so the electricity comes from the same generation source as their buildings. This is the most cost-effective method for powering the chargers, but it links the carbon impact to the generation source provided by the region’s utility. If the local utility is powered mostly by coal generation plants, the carbon savings may be negligible.  Organizations serious about using an EV program to lower their carbon footprints may find an increasing need to invest in renewable power. Amazon, for example, plans to increase its renewable energy usage from 40 percent to 100 percent by 2030 . Bank of America already sources 91percent of its energy from renewable sources and will be rolling out on-site solar generation at more than 60 of its locations in the next two years. A number of the research participants already have invested in their own on-site generation, and 55 percent report that they are looking to add or expand this capability in the future. When self-generation is not feasible, organizations have increasing opportunities to source renewable energy through their utilities.  Electrification of vehicle fleets will markedly reduce greenhouse gasses. Employers have much to gain and much to offer in this transition. Offering on-site, electric vehicle charging not only will contribute to the infrastructure needed to speed this transition, but also benefit companies that offer this amenity.  To hear a fuller story from one of our study participants, visit the recording with Erik Hansen of Workday. Pull Quote Organizations serious about using an EV program to lower their carbon footprints may find an increasing need to invest in renewable power. In trying to determine how many chargers to provide, the participating organizations often underestimated the demand and recommended thinking ahead when planning. Topics Transportation & Mobility Infrastructure Electric Vehicles ChargePoint Collective Insight Thinking in Systems Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Herr Loeffler Close Authorship

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Workplace EV charging: Lessons from sustainability trailblazers

Rebuilding recycling to go circular

May 19, 2020 by  
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Rebuilding recycling to go circular Keefe Harrison Mon, 05/18/2020 – 18:18 This article is part of our Paradigm Shift series, produced by nonprofit PYXERA Global, on the diverse solutions driving the transition to a circular economy. See the full collection of stories and upcoming webinars with the authors  here . After the coronavirus pandemic has passed, the world will need solutions to repair our economy in a way that protects both the planet and its people. The circular economy is a solution for our future health and wellness and recycling has a vital role to play. A circular economy is not possible without recycling, yet it can’t happen through recycling alone. As companies ramp up their circular economy goals, they’re often based on the concept that recycling will be the workhorse and catch-net of a bigger system. The truth is, that system is not yet a reality. Recycling isn’t just a thing you do when you’re done drinking your bottle of water or reading the morning paper. It’s a system supported by hundreds of thousands of employees, generating billions of dollars in economic activity, and conserving precious natural resources. However, while it can feel as though it’s a singular service, in fact it represents a loosely connected, highly interdependent network of public and private interests. The U.S. census tells us there are about 20,000 local governments, each independently responsible for deciding what to recycle, how to recycle, or whether to offer recycling services at all. This collection of disaggregated waste management decisions is a challenging start of the “reverse supply chain” that is recycling. The Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of U.S. Curbside Recycling Report addresses a system that is causing some communities to abandon their programs, but also shows an overwhelming majority of communities across the country still committed to providing household recycling services. Americans continue to value and demand recycling as an essential public service according to The Recycling Partnership’s 2019 Earth Day survey. A circular economy is not possible without recycling, yet it can’t happen through recycling alone. The time to transform the way we think about and manage waste is now. Conceptually, recycling is and has been the “gateway” for a circular economy worldview to take hold in our society. In this transition, it’s critically important to seize on the cultural momentum that recycling has inspired, because behavior change takes so much longer than many other solvable challenges in the transition from linear to circular. Citizens can feel disheartened by the realization that our efforts to recycle are often in vain. Consider the following statistics: More than 20 million tons of curbside recyclable materials are sent to landfills annually Curbside recycling in the United States currently recovers only 32 percent of available recyclables in single-family homes If the remaining 20 million tons were recycled, it would generate 370,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs It also would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 96 million metric tons of CO2  equivalent AND conserve an annual energy equivalent of 154 million barrels of oil OR the equivalent of taking more than 20 million cars off U.S. highways While recycling feels universal, only half of the American population has access to curbside recycling . Before we can implore a public to recycle, they need to be guaranteed the ability to do so. Many communities increasingly pay more to recycle , sometimes double the cost of landfilling  — and many more programs lack critical operating funds. Policy can and should help community recycling programs to improve by addressing challenging market conditions, providing substantial funding support and resolving cheap landfill tipping fees that make disposal options significantly less expensive than recycling. A truly circular economy — one that takes us off the perilous take-make-waste path — can’t be built on the shaky foundation of the current U.S. recycling system just described. It needs to be shored up, supported, rebuilt and reinvigorated. Most important, it cannot work properly without the aligned efforts from all members of industrial supply chains. Recycling is not just something that citizens do to feel good about buying something — it also provides a circular manufacturing feedstock that displaces newly extracted materials. It is needed by manufacturing to make new products, reduce environmental impact and achieve a more positive economic result. This is true for mature industries such as paper mills and aluminum smelters and for developing end markets such as chemical recycling. The fate of current and not-yet-recyclable materials rests in the hands of a broad set of private sector actors who must adapt to support the transition. Strong, coordinated action is needed in areas including package design and labeling, capital investments, scaled adoption of best management practices, policy interventions, and consumer engagement. The fate of current and not-yet-recyclable materials rests in the hands of a broad set of private sector actors who must adapt to support the transition. A three-step plan to ensure recycling supports the circular economy 1. Support for local recycling programs with policies and capital Local political support for recycling needs to be strengthened, such that municipalities are meeting the expectations of most Americans: recycling bins alongside trash cans, the contents of which are being recycled. All this needs to be supported at the federal level with policies that incentivize adoption and reduce confusion around recycling. It also means continued innovation in the collection, sorting and general recyclability of materials, including the building of flexibility and resiliency to add new materials into the system. 2. Significant investment in domestic infrastructure and end markets An extensive series of targeted investments is needed to deliver a deeper integration of circular manufacturing feedstock into the supply chain. This will help provide the carts to collect the recyclables, the trucks to pick them up and the facilities to sort it all out. There also needs to be a deepened commitment to support both existing end markets such as cardboard, bottles and cans, and new end markets, such as chemical recycling, to keep more packaging and materials in the economy and more molecules in motion. As published in The Recycling Partnership’s 2019 Bridge to Circularity Report, $250 million over the next five years could launch an innovation fund to design and implement the recycling system of the future using advanced technology, building more robust data systems and enhancing consumer participation. 3. Broad stakeholder engagement We need more than the involvement of dozens of the biggest companies in the world. When you go to the store, it is not a monolithic experience. We don’t buy all our stuff from one brand, one company or one packaging material. Those leading companies shouldn’t be the only ones taking part in this transition. Every aspect of the recycling system that feeds into the circular economy needs to be involved — from the design of the materials on store shelves for efficient recovery and recyclability to the community, infrastructure and end market components mentioned in the previous two steps. It’s clear that unless stakeholders from across the value chain align and conform to the circular economy, we will not be able to drive the change necessary to move recycling in the United States to that place where no more waste is going to the landfill. It will take bold public-private partnerships and leadership to make lasting improvements. Recycling cannot solve for the circular economy, but the circular economy could solve recycling. Now is the time for action. To learn more from the leaders of the circular economy transition, visit  PYXERA Global . Pull Quote A circular economy is not possible without recycling, yet it can’t happen through recycling alone. The fate of current and not-yet-recyclable materials rests in the hands of a broad set of private sector actors who must adapt to support the transition. Contributors Dylan de Thomas Topics Circular Economy Recycling Paradigm Shift Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock franz12 Close Authorship

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Rebuilding recycling to go circular

Reusable packaging in the time of COVID-19

May 18, 2020 by  
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Reusable packaging in the time of COVID-19 Tom Szaky Mon, 05/18/2020 – 01:00 The novel coronavirus had cases on every continent except Antarctica when it was declared a global pandemic March 11. The crisis was brewing long before, and the United States federal emergency and stay-at-home orders would come after, but it was in that official moment of alarm that consumer behavior, and business’s response to it, changed across the country. Almost immediately, reusables and durable items took a spotlight as potentially undesirable . The socially sanctioned practice of bring-your-own shopping bags and coffee mugs came to a halt and was enforced at retail locations , as did the use of glass and durable tableware in bars and restaurants before dine-in service stopped. Even in states that previously had instituted bans on single-use items such as plastic bags ( temporarily lifted  with new bans on their reusable counterparts ), there has been a swap to disposables, thought to be more sanitary than durable products and packaging intended to be used many times, sometimes by many people. In an evolving age of contagion, we are still only beginning to understand the perception of reusables is that they are vehicles for a virus. But reuse in and of itself isn’t the problem here; it’s the way it’s done. Reusable packaging is faced with proving its trustworthiness alongside disposables in a world that is standing six feet apart in the grocery aisle. Take the dentist. Year-round, people young and old go for routine check-ups and surgeries administered by tools and equipment that come in contact with pathogens and people potentially infected with serious diseases. It’s a practice that often draws blood, and yet, the items are used over and over again, on many folks, and everyone’s OK with it. The reason for this is trust. Despite that most of us will never see it in action, we trust the tools are being sterilized properly. If we didn’t have faith in this, we’d choose another provider or stop going to the dentist. Reusable packaging is faced with proving its trustworthiness alongside disposables in a world that is standing six feet apart in the grocery aisle. Trusting others to be clean and safe on your behalf is a liability that can result in someone getting sued, or sick, which is why many consumers are opting for goods in single-use packaging and some eateries frown upon patrons taking leftovers home in their own containers in “normal times.” Disposable packages are painted as sterile, while durables are tainted with suspicion. To be clear, unless explicitly labeled “sterile,” single-use is no more safe, as both are potentially exposed to different elements in packing, pallet and transport. They are touched by many people, and the independent organizations setting the standards and monitoring respective microbial limits vary. But trust is a risk, and businesses championing reuse that are able to meet people where they are, COVID-19 notwithstanding, stand to benefit. The sort of systems-thinking that considers the consumer and their values now and beyond this time of uncertainty creates value through a sense of community and meaningful connection that’s both scalable and adaptable. At the start of this pandemic, our new Loop platform was at the center of some of this discourse, the returnable, refillable packaging model a subject of wonder. In a world where consumers are anxious and making purchases with safety, ease and comfort top of mind, could a zero waste, circular shopping platform of returnable glass, metal and plastic containers survive? Now, we can report that our sales for April nearly doubled what we did in March, half of which was spent out of an official emergency. Our bestsellers were refillable Clorox wipes (the “disposable” sheets recyclable through TerraCycle) and Häagen-Dazs ice cream in insulated metal tubs. Media Authorship TerraCycle Close Authorship All of the essential things people are buying (and bought in frenzy at the start: cleaning supplies; personal care; soap; pasta) are on Loop, and we’ve found consumers are comfortable with the reuse aspect, as the service is conveniently delivered by our logistics provider UPS, offers items in beautiful packages and was contactless prior to the pandemic. Consumers can toss their empties in the Loop Tote with the same ease as throwing an item in the trash, and don’t need to do any cleaning themselves. Unlike the durable coffee cup systems and reusable bags hibernating now, health and safety protocols and industrial cleaning processes are in place in our reuse system. Interestingly, as consumers look for a connection to what they buy and a meaningful way to shop, we are seeing competitors in the coming of COVID-19: the actual, modern-day milkman . Home delivery is important to consumers, as is shopping positively in a retro-style model, so if not for the social impacts, the no-contact and returnable packaging system is appealing. From its initial launch to Paris, France and in 10 states in the Northeastern United States, Loop recently announced its expansion to all 48 contiguous states and is slated to officially go live nationwide this summer, which means more people soon will be able to order. The next phase of the shopping platform, currently all digital commerce, will be to integrate in retail locations, where consumers can return empty containers and shop for refills in-store. We can’t project how or when retail will return to “normal,” or what a new normal will look like. But by having met people where they are at home and online and establishing trust in a difficult situation, we anticipate consumers will continue to engage with Loop in a post-social distancing world. Brands and retailers working towards plans for circularity can gain tangible returns even (or especially) now by reaching people through continued investment in their present and future. Putting this on the backburner in a health crisis is short-sighted. With so much to fear today, the opportunity to trust is one that consumers desire, and businesses are in a position to give. Pull Quote Reusable packaging is faced with proving its trustworthiness alongside disposables in a world that is standing six feet apart in the grocery aisle. Topics Circular Economy Design & Packaging Circular Packaging Reuse Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock 5PH Close Authorship

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