In Chile, a Circular Economy Game-Changer Is on the Rise

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Transformational change can happen in any market, in any industry. What was once the status quo can be reimagined and replaced with better, healthier alternatives - healthier for consumers, the environment and the bottom line. We’re seeing this happen right now within the circular economy - and in a market that isn’t on either side of the Atlantic.

This game changer is underway in Santiago, Chile. Algramo is a small startup with core principles that have caught the eye of major circular economy investors and is being examined by the major consumer packaged goods (CPG) company Unilever.

What’s the big deal with this small company?

Algramo is ditching plastic waste and bringing refills to consumers when and where it’s most convenient. José Manuel Moller, founder and CEO, was an MBA student studying advanced design at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile when he started Algramo, which in Spanish means “by the gram.” He launched the company in small neighborhood grocery stores, selling food staples like rice and lentils, at a low cost, in refillable containers and within steps from their homes.

Manuel saw that in low-income neighborhoods, families and individuals are held back by grocery item prices, even for basics. Purchasing items in bulk lowers the cost per unit, but it still comes with a high upfront price. Without enough cash at hand to purchase bulk items, people are left with two options: buy smaller units (by weight, smaller packages can cost 30-50 percent more than the same product in a larger container); or, buy from large commercial stores outside the community, using extra resources to commute. These methods lead to wasted resources, packaging and emissions.

As a solution, Algramo's circular economy model was built to lessen consumers' financial and environmental burdens. The company allows customers to purchase any amount of product, like bulk foods and cleaning products, at a fixed price while supporting local businesses.

Algramo also addresses packaging waste in its model. Customers are rewarded with increased savings when they refill their containers. A radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag on the container works in two ways: it lets customers load funds into an account—making it a cashless system and it tracks when the container is brought back so a discount can be applied toward a future purchase. In Santiago, the rate at which customers reuse packaging has grown to about 85 percent.

Chile has already taken a bold step in becoming the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags in an effort to help protect the environment, especially the ocean. In addition to plastic bags, tackling packaging waste is high on the nation’s to-do list. If more companies committed to innovative solutions, like Algramo, packaging waste that often ends up clogging landfills or littering the environment could be significantly reduced. Hence Algramo is disrupting the vast consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry by advancing new technologies and introducing new distribution channels.

As Algramo makes its way into laundry facilities in high-rise apartment complexes in the U.S., take note of its successes. By delivering sustainable and sensible solutions to the most niche and convenient locations, this method will become the most viable solution to tackling the ongoing plastic waste program. And, greater change will happen.

This bold act of change deserves attention. Selling CPG staples in small bodegas and laundry rooms may not feel like a monumental idea to some, but the ripple effect caused by this model stands to create a seismic shift in a $8 trillion (and growing) CPG industry. If Algramo’s business model can attract investment from such groups as Closed Loop Partners and attention from a the likes of Unilever, then there’s a good chance this startup can transform consumer habits for the better globally.

Image credit: Algramo/Facebook

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Eight Sustainable Ways to Pass the Time in the Washington, D.C. Region

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For those of you attending 3BL Forum this week, in National Harbor, Maryland, welcome! The timing is certainly perfect, to start, thanks to the 100 speakers who will be onstage across two days – and also because of the crisp fall weather. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the exciting fact that the Nationals are in the World Series, a first for Washington, D.C. since 1933.

If you arrive today or tomorrow, there are plenty of ways to occupy your time before this turbo-charged agenda starts Tuesday morning in National Harbor. And if you are staying an extra day or two, we also have some suggestions on what to do in the District or across the greater area.

Getting around Washington, D.C.

Capital Bikeshare: Do you want to cram in all the sights, but don’t have a lot of time AND you want a workout? Then purchase a pass to enjoy Capital Bikeshare. The scarlet red bicycles will get you to those hard-to-reach sites like the Kennedy Center, Washington Cathedral or the Jefferson Memorial. Mind you, this system has been designed for local commuters; so while you can only ride a bike for 30 minutes at most, it’s easy to dock a bike, check out the views or score that coffee, and then saunter back and dislodge another bike to continue your merry capital way.

Be sure to download Capital Bikeshare’s app – it will let you know, with pretty good accuracy, where the closest bicycle docking stations are and how many bikes and docking stations are available. A tip: the stations around the Lincoln Memorial tend to be most crowded, so be sure you have plenty of time to park your bike within that 30-minute time frame so you don’t get dinged additional fees.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/siinyk9csuanej0/Screenshot%202019-10-27%2010.46.13.png?dl=0
Above: the author at a Capital Bikeshare docking station in the DuPont Circle neighborhood. Note that some docking stations are far more frequented than others.

Above: the author at a Capital Bikeshare docking station in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of D.C. Note that some docking stations are far more frequented than others.

The great outdoors

Great Falls Park: About a 35-minute drive from downtown D.C., this 800-acre park (shown at the top of this page) along the Potomac River, run by the National Park Service (NPS), makes you forget you’re in one of the most populous (and congested) metropolitan areas on the East Coast. The rapids gushing at full speed through the spectacular rock formations could fool you into thinking you’re in the Rocky Mountains or the Sierra Nevadas instead of Northern Virginia.

Fort Washington Park: Less than a 20-minute drive from National Harbor, Fort Washington’s origins lie as a fortress built in 1809 to defend the fledgling new national capital. The fort didn’t always work – the British certainly had no problem getting by on their way to destroying much of D.C. in 1814. Over the decades this imposing set of buildings took various names as it continued to be vital to defending the capital until World War II. NPS has run the site since 1946 and has done a fantastic job preserving this wide-open space. The thick walls and lines of cannons are impressive, as is the nature that can be found lining the Potomac – plus the best part about Fort Washington is that even on a glorious Sunday day, visitors are sparse.

Fort Washington offers spectacular views of the Potomac and a window into U.S. history
Fort Washington offers spectacular views of the Potomac and a window into U.S. history

Above: Fort Washington offers spectacular views of the Potomac and a window into U.S. history

Hanging out

DuPont Circle: Before “inclusion” became one of this decade’s most overused buzzwords, DuPont Circle was the only neighborhood in D.C. where the region’s LGBTQ community could feel they were a part of anything “inclusive” while hanging out hung out in this vast safe zone of bars, cafes and restaurants that line Connecticut Avenue and Q Street. Like many gay neighborhoods in the pricier U.S. cities, the demographics are changing. If you have time, chilling out by the massive fountain that marks the actual DuPont Circle is a great way to whittle away time people watching.

U.S. Botanic Garden: George Washington had a vision for a botanical garden that would highlight the vast bounty of flora in the young United States. First established in 1820, the U.S. Botanic Garden offers a healthy dose of nature just a short walk from the east end of the National Mall, the Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol. If you happen to be in this area during a cold snap, the joy of this building, besides the displays and gardens, is the fact you can warm up and shed a few layers of clothing.

Eating and grazing

Alexandria, Virginia: In the cute and trendy district of Del Ray in Alexandria, the appropriately-named Del Ray Café serves organic and local fare in a historic white clapboard house. The restaurant’s egg dishes work nicely for breakfast or lunch; the seasonal vegetable hash is another fab option. Just a few steps away is the Bon Vivant Café + Farm Market, which offers a bevy of keto, paleo, vegan and gluten-free menu options.

Foggy Bottom: Home to the State Department, George Washington University and one of Margaret Truman’s murder mystery novels, this neighborhood offers plenty of food options if time won’t allow you to venture farther northwest into Georgetown. Founding Farmers, which is owned by a 47,000-member farmers union, scores raves for its vast menu, which includes handmade pasta and solid vegetarian options – including a meatloaf with protein courtesy of Impossible Foods.

Eastern Market: Located less than a 20-minute walk from the U.S. Capitol, Eastern Market has emerged as the leading showcase for D.C.’s artisanal food scene. Its history is a long one: when Pierre L’Enfant designed the layout of the nation’s capital in the 1790s, he envisioned a city with public markets akin to what he remembered in his native Paris. L’Enfant’s vision took a while; Eastern Market did not open until 1873. It is now one of the oldest public buildings in the District, and has certainly had its share of ups and downs, notably a catastrophic fire in its main all in 2007. Reopened a couple years later, Eastern Market can still brag that it’s been in operation for 146 years without interruption. The market’s vendors boast stellar flowers, local dairy products, humanely-produced meats and of course, fruits and vegetables – it’s all here.  Side note: If you can’t make it to Eastern Market, this Curbed article has a good layout of other farmers’ markets in the wider D.C. area.

Image credits: Preston Low; Leon Kaye

Of course, the Lincoln Memorial is the perfect stop on a Capital Bikeshare bike on the way to noshing in Foggy Bottom
Of course, the Lincoln Memorial is the perfect stop on a Capital Bikeshare bike on the way to noshing in Foggy Bottom

Above: Of course, the Lincoln Memorial is the perfect stop on a Capital Bikeshare bike on the way to noshing in Foggy Bottom

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3p Weekend: The Travel Industry Finds New Ways to Reduce Environmental Impact

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Eco-travel has arrived. While Greta Thunberg sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in September on a zero-carbon yacht may be an extreme example, the travel industry — from large hotel chains and airlines, to boutique eco-resorts — is jumping on board to cater to the growing demand for environmentally-friendly travel options.

According to a recent report, 87 percent of global travelers polled say they want to travel sustainably, with two-thirds saying they would be willing to spend at least 5 percent more on their travel to ensure it is as low-impact on the environment as possible.

More hotels are taking on plastic waste

While nearly all major hotels have had “green” programs for years, a new trend is emerging to eliminate single-use plastic.

Marriott International, the world's largest hotel chain, announced in August that it will eliminate small plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel from its hotel rooms worldwide by December 2020. They'll be replaced with larger bottles or wall-mounted dispensers. The hotel says the move will eliminate about 500 million small bottles each year, or 1.7 million pounds of plastic.

The move follows a similar announcement by IHG, which owns Holiday Inn, Kimpton and other brands, which said it will eliminate about 200 million plastic toiletry bottles each year by 2021.

Last year, Walt Disney Co. said it would replace small plastic shampoo bottles at its resorts and on its cruise ships, as well as eliminate single-use plastic straws and plastic stirrers at all owned and operated locations across the globe. The “Happiest Place on Earth” will also begin adding hundreds of plant-based dishes this year at its fast-service and dine-in restaurants at its theme parks in Florida and California.

Just the tip of the green iceberg

Beyond the large hotel chains, a growing number of smaller hotels are popping up across the globe catering to eco-tourists, integrating sustainability into all aspects of the vacation experience.

In northern Finland, a new hotel expected to open in 2022 by the Arctic Brands Group will price stays based on guests’ emissions: the smaller their environmental impact, the less they will pay. Visitors of the resort can influence the cost of their stay by consuming less energy, attending ecological activities and making sustainable dietary choices.

The hotel — which will be known as Blue Resort — is expected to be self-sustaining, built with natural materials, powered by renewable energy sources, and with its own water treatment system. The hotel’s menu will consist of locally sourced, seasonal food. The hotel will also use a fleet of electric vehicles for transportation.

“We want to offer people a world-class eco-vacation and encourage them to make sustainable choices,” Mikko Spoof, vice president and founder of Arctic Brands Group, who thinks that companies are obligated to find new solutions to fight climate change, told the blog Inhabitat.

About 1,500 miles due west in Greenland, Hotel Arctic (no relation to the Arctic Brands Group) markets itself as a green hotel, noting on its website that it reduces its environmental impact by educating its employees and using new technology. Since 2013, the hotel (shown above during the Northern Lights) has been 100 percent CO2 neutral, with solar panels producing approximately 20 percent of its electricity. It is in the process of converting all of its igloo guest rooms — yes, igloos — to 100 percent sustainable energy.

Traveling south to the Caribbean island of Curacao, the Morena Resort touts its green credentials, including the use of  environmentally sustainable materials from fair trade cooperatives in the region in the resort’s construction. In addition, each guest room has a solar water heater on the roof, which generates enough hot water for the entire day.

In Fiji, the Six Senses resort is powered entirely by a solar installation feeding Tesla battery packs – one of the largest off-grid energy systems in the South Pacific. The resort also uses a state-of-the-art, in-house reverse-osmosis plant and water refinery to alchemize rainwater into drinking water for reusable bottles.

Even the U.S. boasts an eco-hotel: Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. The property is 100 percent wind-powered and has a water-reclamation system that collects rainwater to keep neighboring Brooklyn Bridge Park hydrated during the summer.

Most of these hotels have earned a “Green Key,” a new eco-label that has been awarded to more than 3,100 hotels and other travel destinations in 57 countries for their adherence to strict criteria covering areas such as waste, environmental management and green activities.

Now, the travel industry has to address the elephant in the room

Of course, the environmental elephant in the room when it comes to tourism is air travel, especially given that not many tourists can afford the time (or cost) of a two-week trip by yacht to or from the U.S. or anywhere else.

The International Air Transport Association predicts that air travel will grow to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035—a near doubling of current levels.  And while airlines are experimenting with biofuels and other ways to cut emissions, experts don’t expect the efforts to be enough.

“Airlines, for all intents and purposes, are becoming more fuel efficient. But we’re seeing demand outstrip any of that,” Brandon Graver of the International Council on Clean Transportation told The New York Times in September. “The climate challenge for aviation is worse than anyone expected.”

Over all, air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. As the Times pointed out in its September coverage, this a far smaller share than emissions from passenger cars or power plants. Still, one study found that the rapid growth in plane emissions could mean that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s “carbon budget,” or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

While the airline industry has been criticized by some who say the majority of airlines’ long-term targets fall short of the Paris Agreement goal, a report by the Transition Pathway Initiative found that four airlines are taking a strategic approach to climate change: ANA Group, Delta, Lufthansa and United.

ANA Group — which operates the top-rated airline in its sector in the most recent Dow Jones Sustainability Index — is the first global airline to issue Green Bonds, which will raise funds for green projects both in Japan and overseas. ANA is also introducing biofuel on its flights by supporting Euglena Co Ltd, a biofuel maker working to commercialize jet fuel made from green algae output.

Germany’s Lufthansa has published a four-pillar strategy to reduce its CO2 emissions, that includes technological, operational and infrastructural measures as well as supplementary economic instruments. Earlier this year, the airline signed an agreement with a Hamburg-based refinery for the production and acceptance of synthetic kerosene from regionally generated wind energy to use as an alternative biofuel.

In the U.S., United Airlines is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050, while, in July, Delta flew a completely carbon-neutral flight. The Atlanta-Based airline plans to introduce 20 carbon-neutral aircrafts to its fleet moving forward.

Planes, trains and automobiles

With emerging middle classes growing in India, China and other Asian nations and the debut of more and more travel options, the global tourism industry is bracing for an explosion in numbers.

Sector leaders will be those that find sustainable ways to reduce their environmental impact and allow their consumers to do the same.

Image credit: Hotel Arctic/Facebook

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Kroger Launching Simplified Labels to Reduce Food Waste

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Earlier this month, the grocery store chain Kroger became the latest retailer to announce it would standardize food labels to provide consumers with simpler, easier-to-understand product quality and safety information in a move to reduce food waste.

Current food labels are confusing, contributing to food waste

With more than 10 different and confusing label options — sell by, enjoy by, fresh until, display until, best before — American consumers are often confused by if and when they should discard food, beverage and household products. In fact, a report by the Harvard Law School Food Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found more than 90 percent of Americans may toss food too early due to misinterpreting date labels.

Kroger’s new simplified labels will apply to multiple product categories, including dairy, deli, bakery and fresh and frozen grocery across its nearly 2,800 stores in 35 states. The labels are aligned with voluntary industry recommendations by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Instiute (FMI). Based on input from more than 25 consumer products good companies, grocery retailers and other food experts, the guidelines advocate for just two simple labels (as an example shown above):

  • "Use By" to represent food safety by indicating the deadline for when a product is no longer safe to eat.
  • "Best if Used By" to represent food quality by setting the deadline for guaranteed freshness.

"By implementing a standard and simplified new date labeling approach, Kroger and our customers can play an instrumental role in preventing tons of food waste from arriving at landfills, resulting in a healthier, stronger planet and communities free of hunger and waste," said Jessica Adelman, Kroger's group vice president of corporate affairs and chief social impact officer, in the company’s announcement.

Reducing waste destined for landfills

As TriplePundit has previously reported, roughly a third of all food produced globally goes to waste. In the United States, this figure is closer to 40 percent— of which an estimated 20 percent is discarded because of consumer date labeling confusion.

We are talking a lot of food waste — 133 billion pounds to be exact — discarded annually, much ending up in landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that more food reaches landfills than any other single material in the country. With approximately 20 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. coming from landfills, a reduction in food waste would have a positive impact on climate change, according to a report issued by GMA.

For food and grocery retailers, however, reducing food waste is more than about burnishing environmental credentials or improving their brands’ reputations. Companies can improve their profit margins as they become more efficient by tackling waste. According to a World Resources Institute study, for every $1 a company spends on waste diversion, it has the potential to gain a return on investment of up to $14 dollars. Better employee training, improved packaging and a leaner supply chain are just a few examples of how companies can benefit in the long run from focusing more on food waste.

GMA and FMI say 87 percent of products among its members have adopted the streamlined labels since their launch February 2017. They expect 98 percent adoption by the end of this year, and complete adoption by January 2020.

The Consumer Goods Forum, another global food industry network that boasts executives from about 400 retailers, manufacturers and food service companies, is also urging its members to simplify food date labels by 2020. The move will help the association reach its goal of slashing food waste among its membership 50 percent by 2025. Companies that are aligned include Bimbo, the largest baking company in the world; retailers Carrefour and Walmart; and food manufacturers Campbell’s Soup Company, Kellogg, Nestlé and Unilever.

Beyond labels, there are several fronts where companies can fight food waste

Food labels are not the only tactic retailers are using to reduce food waste. Last month, British supermarket Asda — owned by Walmart — began piloting a plant-derived, water-based coating on produce, which the company says “could drastically reduce food waste and potentially reduce the use of plastic packaging in future.”

The coating — known as Apeel — gives produce an extra peel” that, according to manufacturer Apeel Sciences, slows the rate of spoilage — potentially doubling or tripling the shelf life of many types of fresh produce. The coating is composed of materials that exist in the peels, seeds and pulp of fruits and vegetables that is applied at growers’ sites in South America. The aim of such a product is to reduce food waste from farm to retail shelf to customers’ homes.

The Asda pilot marks the first time the technology has been tested in the United Kingdom after it was granted approval for use by the E.U. Commission in June.

In the U.S., Apeel Sciences has formulations that are OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed or the growers and distributors of USDA Certified Organic produce. According to the company’s website, Apeel avocados are currently available at major U.S. grocery stores.

If the technology catches on, Apeel Sciences hopes it will also help reduce the amount of packaging that grocers currently use to prolong shelf life.

For now, it’s clear more retailers are stepping up efforts to reduce food waste; let’s hope the momentum continues.

Image credit: Kroger

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Plant-Based Ingredients Are the Future of the Food and Consumer Goods Industries

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Photo: vegan sliders at Sage Plant Based Bistro and Brewery in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

Consumer brands are undergoing a major marketing transformation. Products intended to go in or on our bodies are no longer driven by tagline positioning. They are now fulfilling a different brand promise: minimal packaging, transparency in processing, sustainable sourcing, even incorporation of vegan ingredients. Consumer demand for these features has launched a movement among manufacturers in the food and beauty sectors in particular: a shift toward plant-based alternatives and “clean” production.

The clean food ingredient market is estimated to reach $66 billion by 2025. Clean beauty ingredients will likely reach $33 billion in the same time, providing an attractive opportunity for innovation. Plant-based “dairy” has captured 13 percent of the clean food market, according to Beyond Meat’s S-1 filing. If we assume a similar market share for plant-based ingredients across the broader food and beauty sectors, we arrive at a whopping $13 billion market potential.

What’s driving the plant-based consumer goods revolution?

Food sector demand for plant-based ingredients is propelled by a number of converging trends.

First is our changing eating habits. In 2006, activist, food expert and journalist Michael Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, a New York Times bestseller that transformed the way Americans thought about food. Pollan, along with other food activists like Alice Waters and Paul Hawken, challenged consumers to question the origin and ingredients in their daily meal choices, helping ignite a global surge in “clean” eating, plant-based foods and whole food diets.

Second, technology has made plant-based ingredients more palatable to a broader audience. Ripple’s milk alternative made from pea protein, for example, tastes better and offers a broader variety of flavors than many almond and soy-based beverage options from previous decades. Beyond Meat, JUST and others have developed plant-based foods with textures and tastes similar to those of existing animal-derived versions – and consumers are enthusiastic (as the popularity of the vegan burger at a Los Angeles bistro, shown above). Ann Beaty, director of merchandising at Kroger, the largest U.S. supermarket chain, said at a recent industry event: “We’re in the business of selling what customers want to buy…[and] plant-based foods are growing like crazy. They’re no longer confined to a vegetarian section, but are in every section of the store. Shoppers are…not just trying these products, but coming back for more.”

Third, increasing consumer awareness of climate change, sustainability, animal welfare and the health benefits of plant-based diets is driving demand in the way we source and process food. According to a report by research firm GlobalData, the number of people in the U.S. who identify as vegans has increased by 600 percent in the last three years. Consumer pressure has prompted companies from General Mills to McDonald’s to embrace cage-free egg production, while fast food chains like Burger King and White Castle are serving up the meatless Impossible Burger.

The beauty industry is also pursuing plant-based innovations. As Tata Harper, founder of an eponymous natural beauty brand, explained to The New York Times, “Beauty follows food because we use a lot of the same ingredients. If they’re good to ingest, then they’re typically great to apply topically.”

Cosmetic manufacturers and brand owners such as the Unilever Group and Kendo Holdings are now offering plant-based ingredients and product lines. Globally, there has been a 175 percent increase in vegan (a sub-set of plant-based products) cosmetics launches over the past five years. According to the NPD Group, natural skincare brands are growing twice as fast as total skincare, and “sustainability is a requirement for new and existing brands, as well as a driver of innovation and opportunity across the beauty industry.” 

Consumers are also turning their attention to food and beauty upstream supply chains and processes, and demanding transparency and minimally processed or petro-free ingredients. The NPD Group notes that consumers “not only investigate ingredients and efficacy, they want to know about traceability.” As far as consumers are concerned, plant-based alternatives aren’t a big improvement if they are not sustainable or are processed with harsh solvents or chemicals. 

Manufacturer challenges

These changes, however, aren’t easy on manufacturers.

Food and beauty manufacturers stay in business by turning a profit. They won’t offer plant-based ingredients if they are cost-prohibitive.

Manufacturers also need to know that such plant-based alternatives will perform as well as, if not better than, traditional ingredients. If a dairy, meat or egg alternative offers cost savings but requires significant recipe alterations or delivers an unsatisfying texture or taste, manufacturers won’t use it and consumers, frankly, won’t eat it. Plus, the alternative must be scalable, and that’s a tall order. Red Robin and White Castle are already reporting Impossible Burger shortages. Lab-grown and  plant-based foods are a huge step forward and will clearly play a role in the food ecosystem – just consider Beyond Meat’s booming revenue and $10 billion market valuation – but they are subject to supply bottlenecks in ways ingredients derived from more abundant sources are not.

Fortunately for manufacturers, we’re at the point where plant-based ingredients make sense for their bottom lines. Often, these ingredients are more than just healthier alternatives to petroleum-based or animal-based ones: they’re significantly more environmentally friendly and affordable. Specialty chemicals are becoming expensive and harder to source in the U.S., thanks to the shift to shale gas in many refineries. On the other hand, plant material, particularly material that might otherwise not have been utilized, such as residues from agriculture or sustainable forestry, is affordable, especially if processed cleanly, without expensive additives. 

The onus is on the innovators

Consumer demand is driving innovation – and technology is speeding it along. Ingredient providers can lead the way in bringing sustainable food, beauty and wellness technology to consumers without breaking the bank. The most effective plant-based innovators will offer manufacturers ingredients that are sustainably harvested or sourced from large-scale, abundant feedstocks; that are minimally processed or altered; and that provide multi-functional performance and economic incentive in use. The time is right for consumer brand owners and their manufacturing partners to improve their ingredient lists, for the health of their customers, the planet and their bottom line.

Image credit: Jiroe/Unsplash

Editor's note: A previous version of this story noted that Ripple plant-based milks are nut-based (they're made from pea protein). We regret the error. 

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JetBlue Aims to Diversify the Aviation Industry Through STEM Partnerships

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

The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 700 bomber escort missions during World War II. They were the first group of African-American aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps, now the U.S. Air Force, as well as the only fighter group in the entire war to have a perfect record protecting bombers. But when they returned home, many couldn’t get a job in the airline industry.

You can hear the amazement in Randall Rochon’s voice when he relayed this story during a recent interview with TriplePundit. But what Rochon, a first officer for United Airlines, says next is even more surprising: Today, nearly 80 years after the end of WWII, African-Americans make up less than 3 percent of all airline pilots. For African-American women, the figure barely reaches 1 percent.

The issue of minority underrepresentation in the airline industry “is still very relevant,” Rochon told us. “We have to ensure that minorities—especially those in vulnerable communities who have maybe never even been on an airplane—understand they can have a career in aerospace. We have to give them a pathway.”

Building a diverse pipeline of talent

Major airlines increasingly agree with Rochon’s sentiment. JetBlue and the JetBlue Foundation, for example, say they’re leading the charge to build a more diverse talent pipeline for the aviation industry, in partnership with groups like the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP)

Founded in 1976, OBAP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of minorities in aviation and aerospace careers. With more than 3,000 members internationally, representing every major and regional airline carrier, OBAP supports aspiring aviation professionals through mentoring, scholarships, training and youth-focused education programs. 

Rochon himself got his start through the organization. “I was sitting in my kitchen the year before college and was flipping through some of my mother’s magazines when I came across an ad in Ebony about OBAP,” he recalled. “I didn’t know much about them, so I gave them a call to see what they were about. I left a voicemail and really didn’t think I would hear back.”

But he did. The next day, the OBAP president gave him a call, and a few weeks later, Rochon found himself thousands of miles away at Western Michigan University in a two-week summer flight program for high-school students. Soon after the program ended, the university offered him a full scholarship to its College of Aviation

Since then, Rochon has been an active OBAP member, today serving as the vice chair of its board of directors. “OBAP offered me opportunities to meet and network with professionals in the industry, it opened up possibilities, and it led to many friendships,” he told us. 

Providing hands-on training 

The two-week program that Rochon joined in the summer before college was one of OBAP’s early Aerospace Career Education (ACE) Academies

Endorsed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ACE Academies aim to introduce, educate and guide middle- and high-school students toward careers in aviation. The first academy in 1992 hosted 41 students. Today, more than 1,000 students participate every summer at one of more than 26 locations across the U.S., including academies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

In total, more than 30,000 students have gone through the ACE program, learning about the history of aviation, fundamentals of aerodynamics, air traffic control procedures and aerospace technologies. 

But it is corporate partnerships that bring the academies to life and make them more than academic experiences.

Case in point: Students participating in the New York academy this summer got a behind-the-scenes tour of JetBlue’s terminal and maintenance hangar at John F. Kennedy airport. They also had a chance to experience and fly in the airline’s E-190 simulators, visit the control tower, and receive hands-on flight training with a certified FAA flight instructor.

The JetBlue Foundation and OBAP hosted seven ACE Academy programs last summer in Boston; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Los Angeles and Long Beach; New York; Orlando; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many previous ACE alumni have gone on to land coveted internships with JetBlue and other corporate partners, some of which led to full-time careers. 

“JetBlue brings more than financial support to OBAP,” Rochon said. “They bring promise and hope and opportunity. Kids who go through these programs and meet with professionals go back home and talk to mom and dad, saying ‘Hey, I know what I want to do with my life.” 

Investing in long-term sustainability in aviation

There is another reason—closer to home—that investing in organizations such as OBAP is essential for JetBlue and other airlines: the industry is facing a severe shortage of pilots. 

According to the FAA, there were about 827,000 pilots in U.S. in 1987. But during the past three decades, the number of has decreased by 30 percent while demand for air travel has skyrocketed. In fact, the International Air Transport Association predicts that air travel will double over the next 20 years.

What’s more, a 2016 report by Boeing shows that 42 percent of the pilots currently flying for major U.S. airlines will reach their mandatory retirement age of 65 within the next 10 years.

JetBlue and its company sponsored Foundation is prepared, stating on its website: “We know that the industry can’t rely on the traditional ‘talent pipelines’ to fill our future positions; we need to be innovative to fire up passion for aviation among the next generation.” 

Whatever the reason, for Rochon, the importance of the partnership is simple. “It’s to say to kids, ‘You can do it … [a career in aviation] can be done.’”

Image credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash

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Inclusive Hiring Benefits All: The Story of Spectrum Designs

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T-shirts are a common way to share publicly what matters to you – whether it’s a local coffee shop logo, your alma mater, or a charity road race you ran. The shirts and other apparel printed at Spectrum Designs carry another message: They support inclusive hiring and economic opportunities for the autistic community in Long Island and across the country.

The backstory of Spectrum Designs

Spectrum Designs Foundation began in 2011 as the employment initiative of The Nicholas Center for Autism. Cofounders Stella Spanakos, Nicole Sugrue and Patrick Bardsley wanted Spectrum Designs to create a social enterprise that offered meaningful employment and training opportunities for individuals with autism as they “aged out” of school-based services (usually around age 22, depending on the state). Spanakos and Sugrue are both parents of children on the autism spectrum.

“Individuals with autism don’t have as many opportunities to explore as they get older, to grow and thrive. We must change that,” Spanakos said in a 2018 interview with Forbes.

Today, Spectrum Designs Foundation also includes two additional enterprises: Spectrum Suds, a laundry service, and Spectrum Bakes, a bakery specializing in granola bars. Together, Spectrum has a combined total of 42 employees, more than half of whom are on the autism spectrum. Clients range from Google to Benjamin Moore to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Spectrum Designs are paid at or above minimum wage, going above and beyond U.S. and state employment laws
Employees at Spectrum Designs are paid at or above minimum wage, going above and beyond U.S. and state employment laws

Photo: Employees at Spectrum Designs are paid at or above minimum wage, going above and beyond U.S. and state employment laws.

“We are knee-deep in client orders from all over the U.S. and beyond, having moved over a year ago into a new 7,500 square foot production facility [in Port Washington, N.Y.], which tripled our production capabilities and hiring options,” said Bardsley, who now serves as CEO of Spectrum Designs Foundation, during an interview with TriplePundit. “We are in the process of creating Spectrum Designs II in Westchester, N.Y., by the end of 2019, which we hope will create at minimum 10-plus jobs in the first year of operation.”

Bardsley said that from the beginning, Spectrum set out to create a fully inclusive environment where each employee knows his or her needs are being addressed. Employee benefits include wellness initiatives specifically designed for a neurodiverse community. And unlike many organizations, Spectrum compensates all employees at or above minimum wage. (Currently, most U.S. states allow employers to pay disabled workers below minimum wage.)

“We are well aware that disabled individuals face challenges not only with obtaining and keeping jobs, but being compensated in a fair and just manner,” Bardsley said. “Fair pay for fair work was fundamental as we set about putting our business model into place.”

“Part of the group” 

Spectrum Designs’ Lead Production Assistant Josh Mirsky said that for him, inclusion means “being part of the group, not an outsider.”

“I have so many stories of being not included. That’s pretty much my entire childhood and … up until Spectrum,” Mirsky said in Episode 19 of his podcast Sounds Like Autism. The episode was specifically focused on inclusion in the workplace.

Mirsky produces and hosts the weekly podcast with Spectrum Designs’ Workforce Development Director, Dave Thomson. The duo recently completed a TEDx Talk. Additionally, Mirsky has joined Bardsley in presentations at several organizations in the greater NYC area.

“[Josh Mirsky] has gained confidence and independence, … finding a niche speaking to businesses and universities about his experiences at work, where he is understood, encouraged and invited to grow and be himself,” said Lee Anne Vetrone, Development Manager at Spectrum Designs Foundation.

The economic argument for inclusive hiring

Many employers are starting to recognize the financial and economic benefits of inclusive hiring. But while there are great strides being made, the reality is that people autism face very real barriers to finding employment.

The Autism Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) offers many suggestions on how to expand employment opportunities for the autistic community. Solutions include improved public transportation options, equal employment opportunity enforcement and awareness, and transition assistance programs providing job coaching and training. While initiatives such as these may cost more up front, they will more than pay for themselves in the long run, as employees earn money to spend in the community, and pay taxes to state and federal governments.

As Bardsley wrote in a 2018 article for the Long Island Business News:

Helping people with autism secure paid employment is not just a social initiative, but an economic one. You are simultaneously diminishing dependency and fostering contribution when you step away from the traditional way that people view social causes as a hand out and instead are offering a hand up.”

And as long as organizations like Spectrum Designs Foundation continue providing a hand up to members of the autistic community, people like Josh Mirsky will continue to contribute to both the economy and the ongoing conversation about the importance of inclusion.

 (Author’s note: There is much debate regarding the language used to identify and describe someone with autism. This article uses person-first language to stay consistent with Spectrum Designs Foundation’s and Sounds Like Autism’s terminology. For more information regarding person-first versus identity-first language, please visit ASAN or the National Center on Disability and Journalism.)

Don’t forget: Next week, we’ll be hosting 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What's Next, October 29-30, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C. We’re proud to have Spectrum Designs as a sponsor; for those attending the Forum, please stop by and visit them at the event’s Marketplace.

Image credits: Spectrum Designs

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Bio-based Plastics Hit the Big Time, Going Beyond Product Packaging

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Earlier this month, many of us were duly impressed with Unilever’s pledge to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025. The announcement followed Procter & Gamble’s September pledge to increase the post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in its liquid detergent bottles to 50 percent and reach up to 100 percent PCR content in its conditioner bottles. In addition, Nestle’s commitment to make 100 percent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 is another step forward in taking on the global plastics crisis.

These pledges—assuming they are carried through—are all positive steps in addressing the dire plastic waste problem facing the world. But most commitments to date have focused on plastic used in packaging, which is just the tip of the plastic iceberg, so to speak.

A broad bio-based plastics commitment

That’s why it was exciting to hear from Dutch multinational DSM recently that it will introduce bio- and recycled-based alternatives for its entire engineering plastics portfolio by 2030. This is one of the first times a manufacturer of industrial-grade plastics, which have broad applications across industries from automotive to energy, has made such a commitment.

DSM made the announcement at the huge plastics trade conference known as the K-Show happening this week in Germany, saying the move was in part to address the growing consumer and legislative demand for sustainable living practices and more circular products.

As detailed in the announcement, DSM will offer a full portfolio of sustainable alternatives that contain at least 25 percent recycled and/or bio-based content by weight in the final product. The company has leveraged various technologies and approaches to create the new portfolio, such as fermentation, mechanical recycling and mass balance accounting of bio-based and chemically recycled feedstock.

To demonstrate its commitment, DSM announced at the trade show the launch of bio-based grades of two of its products: Arnitel, mainly used to replace rubber in automotive and electronic products, and Stanyl, used in products that require durability at high temperatures such as kitchen spatulas, car transmissions and desktop computers.

Eastman also using innovation to reduce plastic waste

Another company working to transform industrial grade plastic is Tennessee-based specialty materials company Eastman. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to leverage a new innovative process known as carbon renewal technology to reduce plastic waste destined for landfills.

The company says the technology can recycle some of the most complex plastic waste, including non-polyester plastics and mixed plastics, that cannot be recycled with conventional recycling technologies.

Here is how it works: Carbon renewal technology uses plastic waste as an input — or feedstock — and converts it back to simple and versatile molecular components. The process partially oxidizes the plastic and, at a very high efficiency, converts it into the basic building blocks of certain Eastman products, including products that ultimately are used in such diverse sectors as ophthalmics, durables, packaging and textiles.

The company is also using a second advanced circular recycling technology, albeit one that has been around longer than carbon renewal technology: methanolysis. The process uses polyester waste that cannot be recycled by current mechanical methods. Methanolysis then breaks down polyester-based products into their basic building blocks, which can then be used to produce new polyester-based polymers.

According to its website, Eastman is currently executing an engineering feasibility study on the design and construction of a commercial scale methanolysis facility with the goal of full-scale operations within 24 to 36 months.

“Plastics are used in so many important ways. But because some don’t have good end-of-life solutions or are discarded, the world is facing a problem of significant magnitude,” said Mark Costa, Eastman CEO and board chair, adding that Eastman is working to  “contribute in a meaningful way to a circular economy – an economy where we reuse and repurpose our resources, so they retain their value for as long as possible.”

Plastic is not for everyone

Not everyone is inspired by the recent plastic pledges and announcements, however.

The founders of the wildly popular sustainable footwear company Allbirds, Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, recently told Fortune that “Recycling plastic is a decent solution, but based on fundamentally backward logic. We shouldn’t glamorize recycling because it finds new uses for a bad material. Instead, we need to stop using the bad material in the first place.”

Others take a more pragmatic approach, pointing out, for example, that plastic has a lower carbon footprint than many alternative materials when it comes to shipping and distribution.

For companies that are not planning to completely walk away from plastic, the goal must be to ensure that it does not end up in landfills or rivers or oceans, but rather is reused, recycled or composted.

The announcement this week by DSM is a step in the right direction.

Image credit: DSM/Facebook

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The Limits of Employee Activism: Google Steps Back into Immigration Mess with New Hire

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As part of the growing employee activism trend, some workers at Google have been lobbying their company to stop doing business that supports the Donald Trump administration's immigration policies. Google’s response demonstrates just how far the employee activism movement has to go before it becomes truly effective.

Employers rise to the challenge…

Within days of taking office, President Trump issued a “travel ban” and other executive orders that challenged leading U.S. companies, especially in the tech sector, to defend the rights of immigrants and visiting workers.

The orders had a direct impact on approximately 200 Google employeesWithin a week, Google and almost 100 other leading tech companies publicly protested the orders. They also took the rare step of coordinating legal action aimed at protecting their ability to “recruit, hire, and retain some of the world’s best employees” and to “attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.”

…and employees take up the torch

The president’s initial immigration orders mainly affected people with citizenship in and around the Middle East, a region that has recently provided the tech sector with a rich pool of international talent. In other words, the president’s orders instigated several bottom-line concerns.

Apparently, those concerns are not so much in play when the policies in question deal with persons from Central and South America traveling over the southern border to the United States.

Although some leading tech companies voiced objection to the administration’s southern border policies, a number of other leading tech firms—including Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, along with Google—have continued their business relationships with immigration agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Last June, workers at the home furnishings company Wayfair set the bar for employees who seek to protest corporate relationships with federal agencies that enforce immigration policy at the border with Mexico, but so far workers at other companies have not responded in kind.

…but tech employees need to get foxier about guarding the henhouse

Google employees have had some success in shaping company policy in recent years, with policies related to the use of its artificial intelligence (AI) technology as just one example. However, events of the past few months reveal that Google workers need to keep an eye on the company’s hiring practices as well.

As recently as last August, hundreds of workers at Google publicly pledged not work on business related to U.S. federal immigration and border control agencies that enforce policies on the southern border.

They also demanded that Google “withdraw any existing and potential infrastructure, funding or engineering resources" for CBP or ICE, CNBC reported.

The hiring of a former DHS official fans the flame of discontent

Meanwhile, though, Google was hiring from within the ranks of the very agency that its employees protested.

In a long-form exclusive earlier this week, Buzzfeed News reported that Google has hired former Department of Homeland Security staffer Miles Taylor as a “government affairs and public policy manager.”

At DHS, Taylor publicly defended the Trump administration's immigration policies while moving up the ranks. He eventually became the chief of staff for DHS Director Kirstjen Nielsen (shown above).

Google’s decision to hire Taylor in a public-facing position is quite a turnaround for a company that once vigorously protested the administration’s policies on immigration.

When saying no is not enough

The new hire is consistent with the company’s apparent aim of improving its outreach to “governments and other stakeholders” as it faces a slew of investigations, Buzzfeed reported. However, while Taylor is no longer at DHS, he still carries the weight of his association with the agency.

That weight increased earlier this week, as former Secretary Nielsen (she left the agency last April) came into the public eye again. Nielsen was a featured speaker at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit earlier this week, prompting other high-profile invitees—including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile—to bow out.

At the summit, Nielsen defended her actions at DHS and described herself as someone who “spoke truth to power from the very beginning.”

Be that as it may, contradictory evidence regarding Nielsen’s various public statements on the administration's family separation policy does not appear to support that characterization. If the former DHS chief intended her appearance the Fortune event to be part of a rehabilitation tour, the effort appears to have fallen short, and Taylor has been caught in the backlash.

So far, Google appears to be taking a wait-and-see position regarding the Taylor hiring. Regardless, Google employees may be justified in adding it to their list of immigration-related grievances against the company.

And, they may take Nielsen’s words to heart. At the summit, Nielsen claimed that she left DHS because "saying no and refusing it to do it myself was not going to be enough.”

That statement may not be a particularly accurate representation of Nielsen’s tenure at DHS, but it does bear on the sentiments of activist employees at Google, and other companies, who are seeking a bigger seat at the corporate policy table.

Image credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Flickr

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This Outdoor Outfitter is Doing More Than Opting to Take on Climate Change

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REI has long been an outlier in the retail sector. While many retail chains are shuttering locations, the Seattle-based outfitter keeps opening new stores. And for the fifth consecutive year, as more retailers are determined to turn Black Friday into Black Thanksgiving Weekend, REI will once again shut down all of its locations.

And REI isn’t just closing stores. If you happen to order something online the day after Thanksgiving, your order won’t be processed that day. Furthermore, the company is asking its 13,000 employees to venture outdoors – as well as making the same ask of its 18 million members, who together make the 81-year-old company America’s foremost retail co-op.

This year, the company is asking employees and members to ratchet it up a few notches – and we’re talking massive notches.

If you’re a dedicated Instagrammer and are an outdoors fiend, you’ve probably seen the #OptOutside hashtag here and there – especially on and around Black Friday. Well, that’s REI’s social media brainchild, and yes, once again, next month’s Friday holiday will be all about #OptOutside.

Opting big time to take on climate change

Only this year, REI is urging people to “opt to act.” The company is asking for a nationwide clean-up effort, with the goal to leave the outdoors better off than when people arrive at their favorite national or state park, or any outdoors space for that matter. According to the company, employees have already been opting to act when it comes to clean-up, collecting over 3.4 tons of garbage as of press time.

This effort is all part of what REI says is a “fight for life outdoors” – whether its revamping its linear business model to a more circular one in which returned and used items are bought and sold; taking on waste; and eliminating unnecessary packaging used to store and ship its products.

Climate change is a threat to REI’s business

True, climate change is a long-term risk to all industries – but it poses a huge threat to REI, which banks on selling apparel and gear designed for folks who choose to spend the bulk of their free time in the great outdoors.

Climate change is also a threat to REI’s travel business – which so far features dozens of adventure travel itineraries worldwide, including one of its most recent trips, a hiking and camping escape to the Pinnacles National Park in central California’s coastal ranges (shown above).

REI guides prepare a lunch spread in the middle of Pinnacles National Park
REI guides prepare a lunch spread in the middle of Pinnacles National Park

Photo above: REI guides prepare a lunch spread in the middle of Pinnacles National Park

REI’s challenge, and that of its competitors, is not all that different from the sports industry or the global food and beverage sector. Aggressive climate adaptation won’t help the sport of hockey if there’s no ice to play on; most farmers don’t have the option to pack up and move their fields north if where they live becomes too hot and arid; and in the case of REI, it will lose a lot of business if snow-capped peaks lose all that ice and snowpack forever.

Small changes add up to lasting impact

The challenges seem daunting, but if any company and its stakeholders can inspire change, it’s REI. The co-op’s ambitious sustainability commitments are a start, but as any REI employee will tell you, little changes we all make can together generate a huge difference. Yes, there’s long been the argument that companies and governments need to move faster to scale up change, but as plenty of evidence suggests, if everyone makes small changes to their everyday routine, the results can be huge.

“As a single company, our impact is limited, but as a community, we can drive change that powers meaningful action beyond our walls,” said Eric Artz, CEO of REI, in a public statement. “As a co-op, we know that many people taking many small steps together can add up to big changes. Collective intention will drive collective impact.”

Many companies say they are taking on the climate crisis, but those commitments are often buried in “goals” that will purportedly come into fruition in 2025 or 2030. REI is one of those few companies that understands the time to tackle climate change was yesterday – and is matching its words with deeds.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

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