How Authenticity Can Combat Brand Reputation Crises

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Social networks keep every company on its toes. From viral videos to unflattering photos to sound clips on repeat, there is almost no escaping bad press—because quite often, it’s salacious. The 19th century adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is a myth.

When your crisis communications is a few fries short of a Happy Meal

Take for instance the recent McDonald’s snafu in which two children, ages 9 and 7, joined with the BBC’s War on Plastics program went to deliver a petition to McDonald’s London headquarters requesting the restaurant stop giving plastic toys with kids’ meals. What ensued was video footage of a security officer escorting two teary-eyed children from the office as they attempted to hand in their petition. This is not exactly a way to engender a moment of positive sentiment for McDonald’s.

While this story may have garnered more press for the girls’ mission, it did not shine a flattering light on a highly visible multinational corporation. Earning consumers’ trust and business and maintaining a positive brand reputation go hand in hand and are critical to overall business health.

Dissatisfied customers, on average, tell nine to 15 other people about their experience according to one study. While this is troublesome, it is dramatically worse for a brand caught in a bad moment when the incident goes viral. It has the potential to become a crisis.

A crisis can be defined as a situation that results in disruption of operational processes or influences stakeholders’ perceptions negatively. A crisis may significantly impact a business’s profitability, reputation and long-term operational success.

When your business is faced with a potential brand reputation crisis, what is the best course of action?

Authenticity: Managing communications with affected customers is critical. Authentic communication comes naturally when your organization walks its talk—top-down and bottom-up.

McDonald’s deploys many sustainability initiatives, including improving the corporation’s sourcing, packaging and transportation processes to lessen environmental impacts. What was missing in the plastic toys mishap was authenticity. If an organization promotes that it cares about sustainability, then responding to children who also care about the environment should not be a difficult task.

Perhaps if McDonald’s had responded to the girls’ petition properly, the camera incident could have been avoided.

Burger King was sent the same petition and was not the subject of a doorstep interview. Burger King sent two replies: the first, letting the girls know what was happening with their petition; and, a second, stating the company is considering the removal of toys and ‘development of alternatives” with a goal for a ‘more sustainable toy solution’ being in place by 2020.

Another recent example of positive authentic communication is Starbucks’ response after six police officers were asked to leave a store in Arizona. Starbucks issued an apology to the Tempe Police Department. It was an uncomfortable situation that attracted a lot of media attention in large part due to the aftermath of the arrest of two black men inside a Philadelphia Starbucks last year. This time, Starbucks was far more nimble in its response.

If dedicating resources to developing an authentic culture are ever questioned, note that Belief-Driven Buyers are now the majority across all age groups and all income levels in every market surveyed in the Earned Brand 2018 Edelman study. In fact, communications expressing a brand’s stand have a greater effect on a consumer’s intent to advocate for the brand than communications highlighting product features.

Clear expectations: Letting team members know how to respond to customers, detractors, social media comments and unannounced people with cameras may seem absurd but it may save the organization from a highly publicized embarrassing encounter.

Review and consider the most authentic responses possible. Again, if the organization’s culture is ingrained and authentic, the voice of organization will ring clearer and make crisis communication responses less cumbersome.

Transparency goes a long way here, too. Companies that value their employees enough to share information with them, embolden them because they have at hand the information needed to respond. Knowledge equates to fewer stumbles during crisis communication situations.

Update your communications policies on a consistent basis: Keep your team abreast of developments. Share the information. From front door staff to security personnel to CMOs to CEOs, an inclusive, respectful company culture will elevate any outbound communications in regards to business operations.

If a crisis occurs, it is important that after the storm has settled to gather the communications team to dive into a postmortem:

  • What worked well, and what didn't

  • Points of confusion in the process

  • Suggestions for future process changes

Updating your communication policies also should include the nitty gritty, including the most updated contact information.

As social networks evolve, business reputation management will also advance. A big takeaway here is corporate authenticity. Be mindful of brand management techniques. If you tout that you care about the environment, consider how much effort it should take to issue a response defending the organization’s claims and actions. If it takes a crisis to generate a better response, perhaps reviewing what your company promotes should go under review.

Image credit: Pexels

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Food Tech Watch: 'Molecular Coffee' Can Help Fight Deforestation

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A real coffee connoisseur will tell you that it’s a sin to take your coffee with any amount of milk or sugar. They’ll say it sullies the rich taste and ruins the whole ritual of coffee. If you don’t like the bitter, acidic flavor of coffee, you’re simply not experienced enough to appreciate it.

Jarret Stopforth, however, wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “Why does coffee have to be bitter?” he asked. For most of us, that idle complaint would be the end of the thought. Unlike most of us, Stopforth is a food scientist and was fully equipped to tackle the problem.

We’ve long known that coffee is a complex drink composed of upwards of a thousand compounds. Stopforth and cofounder Andy Kleitsch turned a garage into a lab and spent months dissecting those compounds to learn about their role in coffee’s flavor, aroma and mouthfeel.

The result of their work was more than just a reasonable facsimile of coffee—it was a beverage that was arguably superior. The newly minted Atomo coffee didn’t have the acrid flavor that makes coffee so polarizing. You didn’t need to train yourself to enjoy (or tolerate) it or mask the taste with cream and sugar. Atomo coffee is just . . . good-tasting coffee.

The artificial coffee is the latest entry in the series of synthetic foods and food tech innovations. Most media attention has been on cultured-meat products, like Memphis Meats, but there are other products being developed to meet the demand of sustainable and ethical foods. One particularly interesting innovation is a process that uses nothing but electricity and air to create animal feed.

Considered in a larger context, Atomo’s work benefits more than just foodies and caffeine addicts. The global coffee trade is one of the largest agricultural trades, both in terms of volume and money. The sheer amount of coffee being produced exacts a heavy toll on the environment and society, from Colombia to Ethiopia.

Coffee only grows in tropical climates and those regions tend to be covered in rainforests which have to be clear-cut to make room for the coffee plantations. The coffee industry is a significant contributor to deforestation in the Amazon. Furthermore, it’s an industry rife with worker exploitation both in developed countries and under-developed ones.

Not to mention Fair Trade Coffee, according to plenty of critics, is a mostly meaningless label. But, hey, at least we can still get $1 coffee at McDonalds, right?

Atomo neatly sidesteps these ethical dilemmas by synthesizing everything they need right at home. No trees and no people were harmed in the making of this coffee. Much like its cultured-meat counterparts, “molecular coffee” will leave no blood on your hands.

The development arrives just in time, too, as the global crop of coffee is coming under fire—almost literally. Climate change is already having a measurable impact on the coffee-growing industry and the effects are expected to get much worse in the coming decades. Between the anticipated droughts, extreme weather, desertification, pollinator die-offs and expanded disease ranges, there’s a very real possibility that we won’t be able to continue to serve up the 2.25 billion cups of coffee that are consumed every day.

It appears, then, that Atomo has scored a hat trick. They’ve made an artificial coffee that (arguably) improves on the flavor of natural coffee, that doesn’t harm the environment or exploit people, and that forecasts future product shortages and offers a sustainable solution. When real coffee inevitably becomes a rare luxury, Atomo will have already been iterating on their brew for decades.

Granted, their success is not totally assured. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign, several successful public product testings, and have recently opened a brick-and-mortar display kitchen in Seattle. The founders have been building their board and courting investors, all while continuing to develop and refine their synthetic coffee.

It’s rare to see a food startup positioned so well. Atomo has the potential to be a brand we see a lot more of in the coming years, and hopefully they inspire others to find similarly sustainable and ethical solutions to pressing problems.

Image credits: Atomo

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Brightly Shows How Worker-Owned Cooperatives Can Scale Up

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At a time when American workers often feel overloaded and stressed on the job, worker-owned cooperatives—businesses owned and governed by their employees where each one has one vote—are viable solutions that can increase employee satisfaction. These worker-owned cooperatives allow for employees to develop their leadership skills and have more control over their working environments, leading to less employee turnover and a far narrower pay ratio between C-suite leaders and employees (a 2 to 1 or lower ratio, as opposed to over 300 to 1), as well as increased profits.  

Barriers to scaling worker cooperatives

However, worker-owned cooperatives are not the norm within the small business landscape in the U.S. The 450 worker cooperatives make up just one-thousandth of a percent of the 5 million U.S. small businesses with less than 500 employees, and most worker cooperatives employ only nine workers, according to a 2017 report from the Democracy at Work Institute.

The small scale and the limited number of worker-owned cooperatives results from various barriers, such as the cultural narrative that puts individual against community, minimal policy and impatient capital that values fast returns. The silver lining is that these barriers can also inspire entrepreneurs to innovate and partner with leaders in their communities to develop organizations that create social good through their service.

“I believe that many of the barriers to worker co-op development can be surmounted over time or successfully addressed through a well-designed initiative and through coordinated efforts to bring the movement to scale,” wrote Hilary Abell, the current head of Project Equity, in a 2014 report.

A franchise of worker cooperatives provides a way for cooperatives to scale

One group of cooperatives that has created a well-designed initiative to scale is Brightly, a franchise of worker-owned cooperatives in New York City that offers cleaning services. Brightly is a licensed nonprofit franchise developed with support from the Center for Family Life, which is a community-based organization that has been incubating worker cooperatives for over a decade. 

Traditionally, franchise agreements include the purchase of the local franchised business and royalties for training and for using the franchisee’s brand. The Brightly worker cooperative franchise is different. First, the franchise is a nonprofit endeavor. Secondly, there is no upfront franchise fee and a very lenient non-compete clause, according to Phyllis Robinson, who coordinates the project at the Center for Family Life. 

The franchise attempts to remove the barriers involved in successfully starting a worker-owned cooperative. By providing access to a strong brand with visibility in the marketplace and shared resources to reduce costs, a franchise of worker-owned cooperatives enables low-income entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. 

The process of forming the Brightly franchise agreements was complex since Brightly aimed to mold conventional franchise documents to serve the interests of Brightly workers. 

“We met weekly with the members of the cooperatives to go through the 202-page [legal] document and pulled out the clauses that weren’t fair to them,” Robinson explained. “[The workers] pushed us on it and, in the end, we all got to a really positive agreement.”

Not only does Brightly’s position as a licensed nonprofit franchise illustrate an innovative way to overcome lack of access to capital, but the co-op also demonstrates how all entrepreneurs can reinvigorate business-as-usual models to create social good.

The time is right for worker-owned cooperatives to multiply 

Brightly is not the only worker-owned cooperative seeking to scale in the U.S. The success of other organizations such as Start.coop—an accelerator that empowers entrepreneurs to build scalable, cooperatively-owned businesses—and Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, an association of nine member businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, demonstrates that there is definite interest for creating more worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S.  

Another sign that worker-owned cooperatives are gaining traction is that the U.S. federal government passed the first legislation in support of them in August 2019. It’s titled The Main Street Employee Act and directs the Small Business Association to provide more financial assistance to individuals interested in launching worker-owned cooperatives.

The next step to further catalyze the movement in the U.S. is to encourage investment and backing in this underrepresented business model. Worker-owned cooperatives can scale more quickly through different forms of direct and indirect investment, but investors generally see risk instead of reward in the model. To change this sentiment, worker-owned cooperatives and their partner organizations—such as the Center for Family Life—must demonstrate to potential investors that investing in worker-owned cooperatives yields financial in addition to the easily proven social returns.

Image credit: The Creative Exchange/Facebook

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Podshare Reimagines Housing in Pricey Real Estate Markets

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You have made that bold move to pursue your dreams in California. But what can you do if your life goals include working in Los Angeles or San Francisco, yet you lack the means to rent a room, let alone secure the security deposit and months of rent needed to score an apartment? Podshare, which touts itself as the future of housing, says it has a solution.

And solutions are in dire need. There is no shortage of reports covering the high cost of real estate across California and much of the U.S., as well as the concurrent homelessness crisis.

California is the focal point of this debate, where rents continue to increase at a rapid pace in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Many workers’ pay, however, can’t keep up. The state’s leaders have been scrambling to come up with a solution, with the debate raging from statewide rent control to easing regulations so that much-needed affordable, high-density housing can be built.

But if California is going to remain as a vital place where it’s worthwhile to live and work, the debate needs to expand past getting permitting for multi-level housing near transit hubs, or whether legislation can pass to ensure tenants have both peace of mind and economic security statewide, from Crescent City to San Diego.

Plus, there is the stubborn fact that many younger workers find their living and economic options limited. First, they need to score that job. Then, there is the staggering debt many have taken on to finance their education. Even if they find a fantastic job with a leading technology firm, gathering all the cash they need for renting a house or apartment, even with roommates, may be too far of a stretch.

The bottom line is that many of our assumptions about how we live are in need of a jolt, and therein lies Podshare’s vision.

“Breaking up the payments with nightly and weekly stays allows folks to afford staying—whether it’s because they are paycheck-to-paycheck, don’t yet know if co-living is for them, or don’t have a definite date of how long they’re in town for,” founder and CEO Elvina Beck wrote in a letter explaining what motivated her to launch Podshare.

From Beck’s point of view, the benefits of living in a Podshare property are multifold. It could be an option for workers who are close to homelessness with few options but need to find a place fast before it’s too late to get mired in such a spiral. Maybe that new arrival has doubts whether the job is really going to be a long-term option and does not want to commit to a one-year lease. And there’s the community aspect: Beck claimed that in several years of running the company, she witnessed many residents find their future roommate, who then frequently relocated to a new home within a three-mile radius of a Podshare.

Beck makes it clear that these Podshare locations don’t open “in a place that I don’t want to live in.” That means locations in popular, high-density areas like downtown L.A., Hollywood, Westwood, Venice Beach and Los Feliz. A location recently opened in San Francisco, and Beck is open to developing other Podshare sites, as well as establishing a co-living space network, within the U.S. and even abroad.

You could say Beck is opening an egalitarian door that for generations many of us have dreamed about, but in reality, is increasingly out of reach: the chance to live in work in that city we’ve long thought would be a great place to launch or relaunch a career.

Finally, there are the environmental aspects that justify a serious look at such co-living spaces. The neighborhoods in which Podshare locations open are already densely populated. There are no new build-outs: Each location is a reuse of a previously standing building or are already part of an existing structure. And Podshare’s residents are not commuting far, as they are trading high rents and long commute times for convenience.

Based on a cursory review of some travel and peer-review sites including TripAdvisor, Beck’s housing model is working out. While these 50-square-foot living spaces are available for a nightly fee, the community is largely driven by those who are paying by the week or month—and are also using their long-term yet temporary home as a workspace.

Sure, as CNN points out, that equals to be about a $1,200 monthly tab, which at first glance seems steep until you consider the fact a studio apartment alone will be far more. Plus, this dorm-style arrangement (Beck and Podshare prefer “co-living”) can be a more attractive option than commuting as far as two hours each way to and from some pallid exurb.

Solving our housing crisis cannot just happen with tweaking regulations and hoisting new buildings. A long-term answer will require a complete rethink. If we are really going to cope with an unaffordable real estate market, we need more minds like Beck’s.

Image credits: Podshare/Instagram

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Clean Power in Sports: What Fuels Your Game?

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This article series is sponsored by AEG and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Professional sports leagues are in the unique position of communicating with fans of all ages. That means their efforts around sustainability have the potential to reach millions of people who are passionate about their team and their sport—and leagues are increasingly using this clout with fans to drive positive environmental impact forward. 

In 2018, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game became the first U.S. professional league event to be certified as environmentally responsible by the Council of Responsible Sport. The 2019 Midsummer Classic—held on Tuesday—accomplished the same feat, powered by designated Green Teams tasked with engaging fans around sustainability. 

Renewable energy efforts are some of the most visible programs sports teams can take on, as solar and wind power arrays atop stadiums, ballparks and parking lots provide strong, visual demonstrations of sustainability in action. 

Sports organizations were quick to adopt renewable energy ahead of the pack several years ago, even before the cost of wind and solar dropped to today’s low levels. In the MLB, teams including the Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals began adopting solar as early as 2008. 

In the North American Stock Car Racing Association (NASCAR) circuit, the Pocono Raceway installed 40,000 solar panels in its parking lot back in 2010. In the National Football League, the Washington Redskins installed solar panels in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles began installing solar arrays and wind power systems in 2010, and the Buffalo Bills ringed their stadium with micro wind turbines in 2011.

By 2014, professional sports organizations were also taking fan engagement to the next level by partnering with  residential solar companies on promotional initiatives. At least three teams in the National Hockey League—the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks—took the lead in 2014 with a promotion that offered fans $500 off a Sungevity solar plan. 

Soon after, the NHL announced a league-wide partnership with Constellation Energy for energy efficiency, renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets for the entire 2014-2015 season, making it the first professional sports league to enter into this type of energy procurement partnership.

National Hockey League sports and clean power

Sparking a broader conversation about renewable energy

The Constellation partnership marked a significant development in the way that professional sports leagues communicate with fans about renewable energy. 

Rather than focusing on solar or wind technology at sports facilities, the Constellation program enabled NHL to talk more broadly about environmental stewardship as it relates to preserving the game of hockey itself.

In a 2014 press release announcing the partnership, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman explained: "Our partnership with Constellation advances our commitment to promoting responsible energy use by the NHL, including our teams, our venues and our fans. Our sport was born on frozen ponds and relies on winter weather. Everyone who loves our game will benefit by taking an active role in preserving the environment and the roots of the game." 

Renewable energy credits and carbon offsets don’t have the visual impact of solar arrays and wind turbines, but they can provide sports leagues with new opportunities to engage fans with sustainability initiatives that they can practice at home.

Not everyone has the opportunity to install their own wind or solar array. However, sports organizations can lead by example in other, more accessible areas related to renewable energy. Carbon offsets for travel are one example. The NHL has calculated that team travel does not play a particularly large role in its overall carbon emissions, but fan travel does. So, earlier this year—for the first time ever—the league purchased enough offsets to cover all team travel for the Stanley Cup. 

The offset initiative provided an opening to talk about actions that fans can take to reduce their own travel-related carbon emissions—if not through renewable energy, then carbon offsets, car sharing, mass transit and electric vehicles.

Raising the profile of renewables

In the MLB, the New York Yankees also demonstrate how professional sports teams can use their media impact to expand the sustainability conversation outward from renewable energy, to embrace the end goal of reducing carbon emissions through a variety of pathways.

The Yankees previously reached fans by partnering with solar leader Sunrun on rooftop solar promotions at Yankee Stadium. This year, the team raised the bar by hiring an environmental science advisor, believed to be the first position of its kind in professional sports. Through the announcement of the new position, the Yankees articulated a more inclusive approach to carbon management that emphasizes waste management, food waste, LED lighting and other actions that fans can practice at home.

Underscoring this inclusive approach, in April the team also signed on to the new U.N. Sports for Climate Action Framework. The Framework calls for a broad environmental commitment that includes outreach and fan education, along with direct action to reduce carbon emissions—and other sports stakeholders including the National Basketball Association and AEG soon followed suit in signing on. 

playing hockey outdoors

Where renewable energy meets social equity

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, renewable energy also involves elements of environmental justice, social equity and community well-being. These element are beginning to emerge in the way that sports organizations talk about renewable energy and sustainability—and they come into particularly sharp focus for professional hockey. 

Climate change is just one force threatening the sport. League stakeholders are also concerned about barriers to participation for the next generation of players. “The reason why we do this work is because the NHL wants to ensure that the sport of hockey thrives for future generations. Period. Full stop,” explains Omar Mitchell, the NHL’s first director of sustainability. 

Mitchell cites the NHL’s 2014 sustainability report, which underscores how renewable energy and other sustainability initiatives are intertwined with access issues. While indoor rinks are commonplace, hockey’s historic roots are in free access to outdoor spaces. Reclaiming that element of social equity and accessibility is an important part of NHL’s sustainability strategy. “We need cold weather. We need fresh water. We need breathable, livable places where people can experience the game outdoors,” Mitchell says.

“Sports can be a platform to talk about the environment from a social equity perspective, by creating healthy thriving communities,” he explains. “We like to say that we are on the first stage of a much longer journey. Sustainability is all about continuous improvement. It cannot be one thing ‘done and done.’”

Celebrating progress, and moving on

Next year, the NHL will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its NHL Green initiative, and the league is already looking ahead to additional progress.

On the operational side, much of the focus will be on taking advantage of rapid advances in new technologies for saving energy and water at hockey facilities. With all 31 teams (soon to be 32) signed on to the Green Sports Alliance, the league is in a good position to share best practices.

In particular, NHL teams can take advantage of the league’s ongoing work with AEG, the company that owns the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the LA Kings franchise, among other teams and venues. AEG recently installed an innovative, energy-efficient dehumidifier and water recycling system at the Staples Center, and it has already caught the eye of other NHL franchises. 

On the fan side, one major effort moving forward is to bring innovative technology and best practices into local communities, as about 80 percent of local hockey rinks are more than 20 years old and could benefit substantially from efficiency upgrades, Mitchell says. 

All in all, renewable energy is playing a role in a much broader culture shift, and professional sports is emerging as a key driver of this change.

Image credits: Chanan GreenblattAnders Krøgh JørgensenPriscilla Du Preez and Taylor Rooney via Unsplash

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Not All Nutritionists Believe Meat Alternatives are Healthier

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As the number of people in the U.S. and other countries show a growing appetite for plant-based foods, nutritionists are weighing in on whether these products are as healthy for humans as their producers claim they are for the environment. Plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean healthier, according to some of these dieticians.

As people jump on the plant-based food trend that includes not only alternatives to meat and bovine milk but also vegan yogurt and seafood, more scrutiny is being focused on these products’ health benefits along with any of their highly touted environmentally friendly claims.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, which are leading the trend (and generating most of the hype), claim nutrition and environmental benefits. On its website, Beyond Meat says animal-based meats lead to a 16 percent increased risk of cancer and 21 percent increased risk of heart disease. And certainly, a great deal of scientific research has linked frequent consumption of red meat to heart disease and cancer.

Concerns over processed meat alternatives vs. conventional foods

So that might lead nutritionists to conclude the meatless burgers are better. But not so fast. The refrain “moderation is key” pops up, as well as the argument that whole foods rather than processed foods present a range of health benefits.

Weighing in on the trendy new “meatless” burgers, registered dietician Alissa Rumsey, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, told CNBC: “They are not necessarily healthier than beef burgers. They’re totally fine to eat, but there’s no need to replace your beef burger if you don’t enjoy these.”

Rumsey warned that a public perception that the Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers are healthier than red meat options can lead to a “health halo” around them. As a result, consumers may over-indulge after eating a plant-based burger.

Registered dietitian Catherine Perez also told CNBC that she considers both the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger “indulgences” because they are processed foods.  

If it’s protein you’re concerned about, Impossible Burgers are significantly lower in protein than beef-based burgers, yet contain more fiber, according to an analysis by Healthline. It noted that these burgers are also generally higher in fat, contain carbohydrates and have a high amount of added salt.

Nutrition showdown: science experiment or health value?

According to the nutrition website Fooducate, which did a recent “nutrition showdown on Beyond Meat vs Beef,” the amounts of sodium and saturated fat in plant-based burgers are roughly the same as that in a traditional beef burger. But the vegan burgers are highly processed products. Beef burgers have just one ingredient.

The ingredient list for Beyond Meat? “Water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, contains 2% or less of the following: cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, natural flavor, maltodextrin, yeast extract, salt, sunflower oil, vegetable glycerin, dried yeast, gum arabic, citrus extract (to protect quality), ascorbic acid, succinic acid, modified food starch, annatto (for color).Impossible Burgers’ ingredient list is equally lengthy.

Breaking down the Beyond Meat ingredients list, Fooducate says the third and fourth ingredients “are fats, required to make the product's mouth-feel reminiscent of a sizzling juice burger.” Any ingredients beyond the first four listed are what makes a pea burger taste closer to beef.

But in its analysis, Fooducate raises a worthwhile question: “On one hand, this is an extraordinary scientific and culinary achievement. On the other hand, why must we invest so much effort to make vegan replicates of meat products? How about learning to enjoy vegan dishes that have been nourishing humans for hundreds and thousands of years?”

A debate likely to continue

Beyond Meat stresses its products’ 90 percent lower carbon footprint than conventional beef as a huge consideration along with the health benefits of eating less beef, as 3P has reported. The company also says its plant-based meats address global resource constraints and improve animal welfare.

The nutritional debate will no doubt grow more intense as plant-based foods move from supermarket shelves to fast-food menus. Some fast food restaurants like Del Taco, White Castle and Burger King have gone all-in on meatless beef alternatives, while others, like Arby’s, had its own cheeky response with the prototype “Marrot,” a carrot-shaped snack made of turkey.

The market seems to betting on the success of the new alternative burgers, judging from the record-breaking IPO debut of Beyond Meat. The company has said that its plant-based “meat” could eventually become a $270 billion industry, according to The Motley Fool. Nutritional concerns may slow but not derail that bullet train. Nevertheless, companies and investors that are hot on plant-based products may need to take a step back if this debate gets any louder.

Image credits: Beyond Meat/Facebook

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Day Old Bread, Another Front in the Food Waste Battle

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So where does all that excess bread at bakeries go at the end of the day? Some bakeries mark it down the last hour of business or sell it on the cheap the next day. Naturally, one answer to the question of what to do with unwanted bread would be donating it to local food banks and charities – but logistics and local regulations can often get in the way.

Well, across the pond in the United Kingdom, the country’s largest supermarket chain is using day-old bread the way enterprising chefs amongst us have been doing all along – use it to make more food products. And therein lies a new take on the circular economy!

Tesco announced earlier this week that its unwanted baguettes will be churned into other products to be sold at its bakeries. For now, the company will start by making olive oil crostini in addition to one of the best possible desserts one can make – the legendary carbohydrate bomb, bread pudding (shown above).

According to Tesco, if this development ends up being successful, it could be rolled out across all of its U.K. stores. Unwanted bread accounts for a significant part of the supermarket chain’s food waste, but the company envisions that these new food products could cut bakeries’ food waste by 40 percent from current levels.

For now, this crostini and bread pudding experiment will be tested in 24 locations. The price certainly seems appealing for consumers – the crostini will cost about $1 (80p) and the bread pudding will set you back about $1.60 (£1.25). Now for those of you who wonder what will happen to that unsold crostini and bread pudding at the end of the day, we’ll say fair enough, but let’s give Tesco a break . . . and we can follow up once other supermarket chains launch similar programs.

Decadent bread pudding and crispy crostini certainly sound like better options than the 67,500 metric tons of food waste Tesco tossed in 2015 – and one third of that was from bakery products.

Obviously, this move can pay off for Tesco, as now the company can check more boxes on its environmental street cred checklist. But there are lessons for consumers as well – as in remembering that leftovers from last night’s dinner don't have to be microwaved, or more likely, tossed a few days later after they've been forgotten. Rather, that dinner can be folded into the next day’s breakfast or dinner.

Tesco insists this program is adding to the company’s success in taking on its pesky food waste problem. In a recent report, the company said it had donated 63 percent more food compared to last year, and now it is 80 percent towards its goal of having no food safe for human consumption going to waste.

Image credit: Tesco

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Day Old Bread, Another Front in the Food Waste Battle
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Where does all that excess bread at bakeries go at the end of the day? In the U.K., some of it is going into Tesco bakeries' crostini and bread pudding.
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Solving the EV Charging Problem, with Mobile Solar Energy

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Electric vehicles (EVs) could soon be a major part of the mainstream car market, but buyers are still wary of the time it takes to recharge an EV battery. Toyota and its partners in Japan are working to overcome that obstacle. They are testing an EV with built-in solar panels for mobile solar energy. If all goes according to plan, fleet managers and other vehicle buyers could have some interesting new options in the future.

The time has come for mobile solar energy

The basic idea behind equipping a car with solar panels is simple enough. Built-in solar panels can provide additional solar energy to an EV battery while the vehicle is in motion, in addition to recharging the battery when the vehicle is parked.

In terms of bottom-line benefits, the extra electricity would provide drivers and fleet managers with more options to operate their fleets more efficiently. They could plan for longer trips between charging times, because the vehicle could remain on the road for longer periods.

Fleet managers could also plan trips that don’t require regular access to charging stations. The car could simply recharge its battery while parked in any spot where sunlight is available.

In addition, fleet managers could have more flexibility to plan trips around the most convenient opportunity to provide for a full recharge at a charging station, however long that may take.

What’s holding back the mobile solar fleet of the future?

Until recently, solar-equipped cars were not entirely practical. Conventional silicon solar panels are relatively heavy. For EVs, the added weight offsets at least some of the battery range gained from solar energy.

Conventional solar panels are also not ideal for plug-in hybrid EVs. The added weight could result in a loss of fuel efficiency (plug-in hybrids run on both gasoline and electricity from a charging station or standard outlet).

Fortunately, conventional silicon solar panels are no longer the only solar energy option. Lightweight thin film solar cells are coming into use for small mobile devices, as well as backpacks and items of clothing.

Thin film is also flexible, so it can be molded around the curved parts of a vehicle.

Last year, the startup Sono Motors introduced the idea of built-in solar panels integrated with lightweight body materials.

Toyota’s approach is similar, though the solar panels are attached rather than fully integrated.

Solar panels on electric vehicles

Toyota is producing the new solar-powered EV demonstration in partnership with Sharp and NEDO, the New Energy and Technology Development Organization of Japan.

Sharp developed the new thin film solar cell in 2016. The company created it in support of NEDO’s goals for a lightweight, flexible, low-cost and high-efficiency solar energy system for use on vehicles.

Last week Toyota announced that the partners are ready to begin public road testing for the mobile energy project later in July. The tests will deploy a Prius PHV plug-in hybrid with Sharp’s solar cells distributed around the car, including on the roof, hood and rear hatch door.

Reducing carbon emissions from the EV fleet

So far, the tests have apparently demonstrated some improvement over a standard Prius PHV with a solar charging system. The new onboard thin film solar system has yielded an increase of almost 5 percent in power output.

The real proof will be how the new system performs in the real world. Toyota will begin driving the solarized Prius later this month in and around Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Tokyo, in addition to other places.

If all goes according to plan, the public road tests will demonstrate that on-board solar energy can boost the fuel efficiency of plug-in hybrids and provide for longer drives between charges.

For companies seeking to improve their carbon footprint, the implications are clear. The new system would enable plug-in hybrids to go off grid for longer periods.

That would help reduce carbon emissions related to companies that currently rely on grid-supplied power to charge up their EV fleet.

That’s because in many areas, fossil fuels still play a key role in the power grid.

Getting a leg up on the future

Companies seeking an EV or plug-in hybrid solution for carbon emissions are facing a dilemma. As more electric vehicles enter the market, demand for more fossil-sourced electricity could also increase.

Alternatives like on-board solar energy could provide businesses and fleet managers with the opportunity to push their carbon footprint down more quickly than the local power grid.

If the public demonstration meets expectations, fleet managers will also have some hard data in hand to make the case for solar-equipped vehicles.

Toyota and its partners plan to evaluate the impact on carbon emissions and improvements in convenience and efficiency, too.

Image credit: Toyota

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Solving the EV Charging Problem, with Mobile Solar Energy
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Toyota and its partners are testing an electric vehicle with built-in solar panels, providing mobile solar energy and offering more range and freedom from fossil fuels.
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This Startup Is Building Homes with Recycled PET Bottles

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How many recycled PET bottles does it take to build a house? Canadian startup JD Composites has the answer: 612,000 recycled plastic bottles converted into plastic sheets. The result: a 2,000-square-foot prototype house in Nova Scotia.

“You can design anything with a plastic core,” David Saulnier, cofounder of JD Composites, recently told TriplePundit.

What was Saulnier’s inspiration for repurposing all those bottles? “Building with 100 percent recycled materials was JD Composites’ way of trying to reduce plastic waste while at the same time creating a viable building product.”

The panels were made completely from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of plastic used to make beverage bottles and other consumer goods. Armacell, a Belgian company, supplied what ended up being the recycled, or we could also say, raw materials.

According to JD Composites, the house is the world’s first using 100 percent recycled PET in a structurally insulated panel (SIP) home. Even the structural beams are plastic. The company financed the project with some assistance from the Canadian government, Saulnier explained to 3p.

The house met all building codes, and since there are no seams or thermal breaks, it is both solid and highly-energy efficient, he added. “Recycled plastic structures should last forever; they don’t rot, even if they are damaged,” Saulnier said.

Using recycled plastic makes sense from both a business and energy perspective, he added. Construction costs were about the same as using wood, perhaps a bit higher since this house is a prototype, Saulnier explained. In terms of energy costs, the estimated savings over the life of a 25-year mortgage are $60,000 to $80,000, he said. 

Turning recycled plastic into building materials also chips away at the world’s expanding mountain of discarded bottles. Currently approximately 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute worldwide, and the number is expected to increase another 20 percent by 2021, according to The Guardian.

Just three years ago, 480 billion plastic bottles were bought worldwide, but fewer than half got recycled with the rest dumped into landfills or waterways. In the U.S. alone, 1,500 plastic bottles are used every second and more than 38 billion water bottles end up in landfills.

While one plastic house is not an answer to the plastic bottle surplus, Saulnier said he hopes it will spur action. “I’d definitely ask governments for more support in pushing this initiative, and also teaching younger adults and even children about the advantages of recycling more than they do now.” 

Eventually, JD Composites’ house will be sold, but for now it will be rented as an AirBnb to show it off to the public. The company is already working on its next project, an outdoor restroom facility for the town of Mavilette, Nova Scotia, built entirely of recycled plastic, making it the first of its kind to be financed by a municipality in Canada.

“I think this house will prove positive for a lot of people,” Saulnier said. “It’s good to have a positive plastic story for a change.”

Could this idea scale up? We’ve long been familiar with apparel, shoes and even printer cartridges made out of recycled plastic. Builders may want to take a close look at this project, which not only takes on the mounting global plastic waste crisis, but also provides a home that could prove to be resilient to climate change.

Image credit: JD Composites

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This Startup Is Building Homes with Recycled PET Bottles
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How many recycled PET bottles does it take to build a house? This startup says 612,000 plastic bottles, a step in taking on the oceans plastic crisis.
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Brunch in Dubai is Slowly Becoming More Sustainable

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One of the great joys of living and working in the Gulf is brunch in Dubai. For expats especially, this Friday ritual is well-earned – after all, taking a job in the United Arab Emirates often means working longer hours than one would at home. Of course, the money is also alluring, but plenty of companies require at least a half-day of work on Saturday, which means for many workers, Friday is the only day off.

Hence the anticipation of Friday brunch, where choices abound at Dubai’s finer resorts, hotels and restaurants. Name a cuisine, and it’s yours for the indulging. And we are not talking about your American or British brunch, where you may just score one welcoming drink or pay extra for those mimosas. The price of entry, which can easily cost around $100 and well over $200, often includes all the free-flowing booze you want.

There is a price to be paid for all this excess, which in fairness, is why many people enjoy visiting and living in Dubai in the first place. Life without excess in Dubai is like living in Paris without a walk along the River Seine in Paris or Hong Kong without its famous ferry.

But Friday brunch in Dubai comes with a cost, a jarring one when considering food waste. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) a person living in the UAE wastes a staggering 434 pounds (197 kilos) of food annually. If your jaw hasn’t dropped at that number, briefly consider food waste in Saudi Arabia, which EIU estimates to be 941 pounds (427 kilos) per person, per year.

Also ponder the fact that by far, most food available in the Gulf States like the UAE is imported from abroad. Sure, some food products like eggs and vegetables are raised in the UAE, and can be found in the grocery stores and hypermarkets found all over Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But then the distance at which food travels goes farther and farther. Mangos and carrots come in from India, which is akin to shipping produce from California to the U.S. east coast. Jordan and Kenya are also major food suppliers. But the strawberries, smoked salmon and prosciutto are coming from a continent or two away. Add up those emissions, and most likely your head will spin faster than it will after a five-hour brunch debauchery episode somewhere at the Palm Jumeirah or in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa.

And as with the case of many emerging economies, the UAE does not have the waste management infrastructure to cope with all that uneaten food. Composting in a climate where the average temperature hovers around 106°F (41°C) in the summer is not quite practical; options like the bokashi system won’t scale up at any point soon.

Nevertheless, to the credit of more restaurants and hotels, Dubai is seeing a slow yet steady shift in how brunch unfolds every Friday. Ongoing changes reflect how long-standing doubts over whether Dubai could ever become remotely “sustainable” could soon become reality.

For one thing, Dubai’s government says it will implement regulations that will nudge the emirate’s hospitality sector to become more responsible and behavior, whether those changes involve food, energy or water.  

Meanwhile, more restaurants chefs and managers are taking on the problems of food waste.

Eating local is starting to catch on. More attention to sustainable seafood has been part of this chatter. And according to one of the local UAE daily newspapers, more venues are conscious of food waste and therefore are bringing back the a la carte menu – or at a minimum, offering a hybrid of menu choices paired with stations offering appetizers or made-to-order entrees.

Some restaurants are turning to technology to tackle food waste.

The luxury resort Fairmont Palm Jumeirah, for example, has harnessed technology from Winnow, an artificial technology (AI) firm, to measure, manage and mitigate food waste. The AI solution measures the flow of food at buffet stations so that in real time, chefs have an idea of which dishes to prioritize or slow down while they prepare and cook for the hotel’s restaurants. Winnow says its technology has saved the property about $140,000 a year, reduced food waste by over 60 percent and kept the equivalent of about 70,000 meals out of trash bins and landfill. More hotels within the UAE have recently deployed Winnow’s technology.

It is going to be a herculean effort to change how Dubai’s residents view Friday brunch. Arguably, food waste is among many challenges confronting the entire UAE, from all that power needed for air conditioning homes and offices, the dependence on driving in order to go to and from those buildings and one end result, the country’s struggle with air pollution. The one-two punch of technology and awareness to claw back at food waste, however, is a step, bite and sip in the right direction.

Image credit: Mitch Altman/Flickr; Darjeeling Cafe/Facebook

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Brunch in Dubai is Slowly Becoming More Sustainable
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Brunch in Dubai has a cost, and a jarring one when considering food waste. But the combination of technology and awareness is taking on this problem.
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