Lockheed Martin Joins the Climate Change Battle

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The U.S. Department of Defense has recognized climate change as a national security risk since at least 2010. Those warnings have become more dire since. With climate impacts coming into sharper focus, defense contractors like Lockheed Martin can - and are - playing an important role in addressing this new threat.

Taking on methane emissions

One of Lockheed Martin’s recent contributions is technology to monitor methane flaring at oil and gas drilling sites.

Flaring is intended to burn off methane emissions and other pollutants before they reach the atmosphere. However, evidence is growing that fugitive emissions from oil and gas operations make a significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Monitoring and measuring are the first steps for prioritizing sites for remediations.

To that end, the company developed the new VISR (video imaging spectral radiometry) flare monitoring system with the companies Surface Optics and Providence Photonics. Originally designed for use on fighter jets, the system has already been deployed by BP to measure sites in Alaska and Angola.

BP is sending the equipment to four other sites this year.

Lockheed Martin, climate change and national defense

During the Obama administration, Lockheed’s climate actions were supported by the policies of its top client, the U.S. government.

The situation is different under the Trump administration. Among other policy changes, the president has called for rolling back the EPA regulations on methane emissions.

The new rules would relax monitoring requirements and provide more time for operators to make repairs.

The Trump administration has also withdrawn support for an EPA initiative that Lockheed helped to launch back in 2002, the Climate Leaders program.

Somewhat ironically, Lockheed Martin was one of 15 Climate Leadership awardees in the program’s final year before EPA eliminated it in 2017.

The company won its climate award in the Organizational Leadership category, alongside Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, The Goldman Sachs Group, IBM and Procter & Gamble.

Among other achievements, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showcased the company for its ambitious goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, and for adapting its business strategy to climate change, in the context of federal policies on “building energy conservation, efficiency and management, renewable and alternative energy use, water use efficiency and management, and other sustainability-focused metrics.”

EPA also took note of Lockheed’s role in cutting energy use at federal sites, and its programs for renewable energy, supply chain management and employee education.

Over the past years the company has also been recognized by the Carbon Disclosure Project (now CDP) for its actions on climate change. The high marks have continued through to 2017 and 2018, with the company receiving an overall score of A for greenhouse gas initiatives.

BP and climate change

While Lockheed has cemented its brand reputation in the climate action corner, the situation is different for BP.

In recent months the company has made some strong moves to transition into clean energy, but its core business remains in oil and gas.

The Financial Times has reported that BP has participated in a lobbying effort to weaken the methane emissions rules, despite the company’s climate change pledges and renewable energy investments.

BP answered the report with a list of its methane-reducing actions. The company also argued that EPA regulations should be revised to provide for improvements in monitoring technology.

However, all of that may a moot point if the Trump administration moves forward with new rules that have the effect of enabling methane emissions to increase across the oil and gas industry.

Another climate change challenge

Over and above these issues, science-based sustainability efforts face a broader challenge from the Trump administration.

In the latest development, last Friday the president signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to reduce the number of their science advisory committees by one-third.

That order comes into conflict with Lockheed Martin’s most recent corporate sustainability report, released in April. As in past years, the report is built on the theme of “The Science of Citizenship.”

In releasing the 2019 report, Lockheed  explained that its approach to sustainability “incorporates sound science and future-oriented thinking to address pressing environmental, social and governance issues.”

Keep your eye on this legacy company; it will be interesting to see how Lockheed Martin maintains its climate change leadership position in the months and years to come.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin/Facebook

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Can Digital Payouts Help Solve the Ocean Plastics Crisis?

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Could micropayments, new technologies, and, perhaps, the blockchain be tools in helping solve the plastic pollution crisis in Southeast Asia? Several organizations are looking at how innovation can help create more incentives for cleaning up plastic waste from ending up in our oceans and involve citizens in more effective waste management systems.

One prototype for this took place in Manila Bay, Philippines, which was, until recently, choked of plastic pollution. Bounties Network was able to collect three tons of plastic using a system that paid locals in an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency. Meanwhile, Plastic Bank, a new blockchain company, opened its first permanent location, a collection point where residents can trade plastic and other recyclable materials for digital payouts.

Both projects aim to develop solutions to address the global plastic pollution crisis. The focus on the Philippines is no accident, as developing countries, particularly Asian countries, are at the heart of the problem. There, growing middle classes and increasing demand for consumer products, including those of global brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestle, has skyrocketed over the past decades. All of those companies use plastic packaging, but few invested in systems to recapture the plastic they sold. The result is plastic waste discarded into the natural environment, and, eventually, the ocean. As much as eight million metric tons a year end up in the globe’s oceans and have created a problem we can no longer ignore.

“As plastic pollution continues to wreak havoc on the natural world and impact communities, wildlife, and people, we can’t wait to address the damage that has already been done. This crisis can be solved, but we need to start at the root and fix what is a fundamentally broken system,” said Nik Sekhran, Chief Conservation Officer at World Wildlife Fund-US in a press statement.

There’s good news on this front, as countries, businesses, and civil society actors have all started to take concrete steps to reduce plastic pollution. One country leading is Indonesia, which is the second largest source of oceanic plastic waste behind China according to a report from Ocean Conservancy. The archipelago nation of 260 million has a plan to reduce marine waste by 70 percent and increase recycling 300 percent by 2025. This is backed by a commitment to invest $1 billion a year to improve waste management infrastructure.

Key to this will be scaling up waste collection and teaching Indonesians to sort trash properly. To aid with this are what Indonesians call “trash banks“ (Bank Sampai) which play a similar role to Plastic Bank in the Philippines. Residents can bring in organic and non-organic waste to be sorted, and have that amount deposited into a special bank account. There are over 2,000 trash banks in operation across Indonesia, and there are plans to expand the system significantly over the coming years.

“In Indonesia, public participation in trash management is low,” said Putra Fajar Alam, the director of Solusi Hijau Indonesia, which provides technology support to these trash banks. “But when we taught them there are trash banks where you could bring your daily trash and it could be converted into money, and you can make that deposit as a savings, they are very interested.”

Cleaning up and collecting plastic is just one part of the solution. Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries generating more plastic waste need to expand infrastructure to be able to recycle collected plastic, which will be a major challenge. Even many western countries have not done this – we choose to send waste abroad, often to Asia, as its cheaper to ship waste to that region than deal with it at home. That is changing, though, as recently some countries have begun returning this unwanted waste, including China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Ultimately, we need to move beyond recycling toward a circular economy model. Solving the plastic crisis will take more than just creating incentives to clean up beaches. It will require systematic change, from consumers, businesses, and governments, to shift the entire global system from one dependent on single-use plastic, to one where reusability and recyclability are central.

Image credit: Dustan Woodhouse/Unsplash

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Tupperware: A Legacy Brand Embracing a Sustainable Future

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As overflowing landfills and waste-ridden seas dominate the headlines, advocates continue to call on companies to embrace a circular economy, in which materials are infinitely reused and nothing becomes waste. Tupperware Brands is among those answering the call. Earlier this month, the direct sales company rolled out a vision to leverage its people and products to push the circular economy forward—which it fittingly dubbed No Time To Waste.

For Tupperware, which was founded in the 1940s with a lineup of reusable food storage containers, the move is something of a return to its roots. "One could say we practiced sustainability before it was even called that," said Mark Shamley, VP of social impact for Tupperware. "Our plan is about how to leverage our history and modernize that approach for where we are today." 

Tupperware

Circular products built to last

Sustainable product design is central to Tupperware's vision. Case in point: This summer Tupperware will become one of the first four companies to utilize a new raw material made from mixed plastic waste. The so-called "certified circular polymer" will appear in a line of Tupperware products meant to replace single-use items—including a reusable straw, coffee cup and beverage tumbler. 

"This is a global launch for the company that allows us to make a pretty bold statement around reusability and renewable materials," Shamley said. "It supports claims about the circular economy and, at the same time, provides alternatives to well known single-use items that are found in waterways and oceans." 

As we report often here on 3p, consumer preferences are changing rapidly—particularly among young people. The majority of Americans now cite healthfulness and sustainability as primary purchasing drivers, surpassing even convenience. Put another way: People are growing tired of our make, take and dispose culture—and they're in the market for better products.

When it comes to plastic, in many ways the science is still catching up. But the ability to recycle mixed plastic into new food-grade products is a significant development, Shamley said. "When I first came here, this wasn't an option," he told us. "But this innovation emerged, and we saw a tremendous opportunity to move forward." 

Tupperware is looking to integrate additional circular materials as they become available. "We’re keeping an eye on it," Shamley said. "And we will work with our partners and providers who are looking to be on the cutting edge."

Tupperware

Starting a conversation 

Tupperware's operational changes under No Time To Waste are numerous: It committed to eliminate waste sent to landfill by 2025 and pioneer new technologies that will allow 90 percent of returned products to be reused or recycled at the end of their useful lives. Additionally, with its network of millions of salespeople and customers worldwide, Tupperware's leadership feels the company can help hasten the shift toward more sustainable choices.

"One of the big things for us is: How do we drive consumer behaviors?" Shamley explained. "We have 3 million sales representatives all over the world. Each and every day, week after week, they're reaching consumers—and they can share insights and tips to help those consumers embrace this notion of wasting less."

As part of No Time To Waste, Tupperware is calling on customers to take a low-waste pledge and reaching out with lifestyle tips to help them "waste less and live more." As Dune Ives, executive director of the nonprofit Lonely Whale recently told us: “We're all starting to be willing to have a conversation around our behavior and our everyday choices.” Still, at a time when global consumers use a million plastic bottles every minute, there's a lot more work to do. 

"We're putting a flag in the ground as a company operationally—knowing that, like many other companies, we have to take care of the things we need to do in-house. But we also feel like we can drive the behavior of consumers," Shamley told us. "We're super excited about the utilization of our network."

The bottom line

As the Brands Taking Stands movement heats up, more companies are using their clout to further causes beyond profit. In many ways, this lays down the gauntlet for the storied companies of yesteryear. But for its part, Tupperware seems keen to tackle the challenge head-on. 

"The No Time To Waste platform is our first big, bold step into this space," Shamley told us. "We have a rich history—Tupperware often invokes a very positive, nostalgic feeling with most consumers—but we feel this is the right place for us in terms of advancing our message. It will become the central platform in terms of how we approach engaging our 3 million salesforce representatives, our distributors and our businesses all around the world."

Catch Mark Shamley on the main stage at the 2019 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands—What’s Next, where he will emcee a high-octane conversation about the future of sustainability in business. Join us on October 29 and 30 at the MGM National Harbor just outside Washington, D.C. 

Images courtesy of Tupperware

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Entrepreneurs, Nature and the Business Case for Sustainability

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According to environmental ethics and philosophy, one of the sixteen principles of life is life tends to optimize rather than maximize. To “optimize” means to strike a balance between having or doing too much and having or doing too little. To “maximize” means not to balance an action or an outcome. It means to achieve the greatest gain without necessarily considering the costs, which could of course be negative. Or the costs could be positive, with the outcome being that there would not be balance or optimization. Environmental systems or ecosystems have multiple variables that interplay to produce tremendous biodiversity on this planet. Life in the natural world, when in balance, has a tendency toward optimization rather than maximization. This allows for flexibility and for adaptation of any one variable when the inevitable changes in an ecosystem occur.

Although humans are certainly a part of and a product of the natural world, we clearly can no longer be considered a “part” of nature since we do not generally desire optimization, but rather maximization. With our tools, our chemicals, our means of transportation, and especially our powers of reason and research, we have long become a force separate from nature in many respects.

As an entrepreneur and human interloper in the natural world, the five most important needs in my life are first - adequate sleep, silence, and stillness in the form of deep reflection or meditation. Second – the ability to move, specifically to run and then swim in water to refresh and cool my body while rinsing the dirt from the trail off my limbs. Third – being present in nature daily, or simply to be outdoors feeling the warmth of the sun, while sensing and appreciating the presence of a breeze. Fourth – being personally intellectually challenged through meaningful, productive work or study. Finally, to have a sense of balance, calmness, and inner stillness while the changes that are inevitable in life ebb and flow.

The time devoted to running and or swimming (until the lake cools in mid-October) is one to three hours every day. For merely attempting to be outdoors and not confined in a building, I devote between two and four hours every day. The sense of balance in life that comes in part from obtaining inner peace takes awareness and daily practice; time devoted to this is ongoing - hour by hour. As an entrepreneur striving to think creatively and to solve “sticky” problems related to human and ecosystem sustainability, I find that the time I spend in nature helps guide me in making the business case for sustainability for my company. Sustainability implies a balance between social, environmental, and economic imperatives; without constant exposure to natural environments I cannot imagine truly engaging with the possible outcomes and challenges inherent in entrepreneurship. All three components – people, planet, and profit – must be optimized to ensure sustainable growth through systematic feedback loops.  

Being in nature, whether one is active or just sitting, has a way of illuminating the dichotomy and tensions between optimizing and maximizing business efforts. Goals may be set from a logical perspective yet being in nature softens the rhetoric while also preparing an initiative for maximum impact. It comes from welding nature’s optimization and human’s tendency to maximize. It is so pleasant to just “be” in nature. If I choose to just sit here, I can contemplate the value of this place. It is peace personified. It is itself without being outwardly demonstrative. Why am I just sitting? In the natural world, this world in which I now sit contemplatively, no goals are being set – or so it seems. Does the ant have a goal to dig a deeper burrow, to gather more grasses for its winter den? Does the coyote have a goal beyond finding the quickest, easiest route to the shore of the lake for a drink of water? Do the first small flocks of Canada geese that have just arrived this week for the winter have a goal? I spend most of my days here – in the water and running around the shoreline. I have immersed myself in it; in the cool hours of early morning and in the evening at sunset. I let this place be by itself during the heat of the day. At some point, rain will bring a refreshing take on the life that lives here. It seems we not only physically thirst, but thirst for renewal of the soul, of the heart. This renewal is here, in nature.

Some of the most important issues facing the world today include the following: First – from the standpoint of health and human mortality rates, access to adequate potable water and sanitation. Second – air and water pollution and the resulting imbalance in the utilization and productivity of resources worldwide, leading to poverty and destitution in some countries. Third – acts of genocide, war, and violence of all kinds; and finally – access to education at the most basic level for all human beings, which facilitates self-reliance and an intimate knowledge of man’s relation to our natural world and its, and our, finite existence.

These four challenges illustrate how intimately bound we as humans are to the natural world and to the planet that supports us. As the world’s population grows, and imbalances in wealth, health, and resources increase, two stresses will be evident: the impact on the world’s human population and the impact on the planet itself. Making the business case for sustainability in all that we do to mitigate and solve these challenges requires we learn to live in harmony with our planet and with each other. Physical, mental, and spiritual health on an individual level leads to inner peace and balance. Spending time in nature daily will promote that balance.

Image credit: Adam Kool/Unsplash

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Companies Are Turning AI Risks into Opportunities

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Critics of artificial intelligence (AI) have found their fair share of reasons to raise concerns about this technology. Facial recognition systems that don’t recognize darker-skinned faces. Hiring algorithms that bypass resumes that contain the word “women.” A chatbot taught through interactions with users to be racist and misogynistic. But these examples don’t have to define the future.

AI systems are only as good as the data put into them, including implicit racial, gender or ideological biases. As more and more examples of AI gone wrong arise, the risks are threatening to overshadow AI’s potential benefits. And with each new example, the public’s trust in AI further erodes.

A growing number of companies are taking note and action to mitigate the risk and, in the process, finding opportunities to offer solutions.

Serving up responsible solutions for AI

After becoming one of the founding members of the Partnership for Responsible AI, tech giant IBM is creating methodologies that will enable its clients to detect and mitigate bias within their AI applications. The company is also sharing its knowledge through the Fairness 360 Open Source Toolkit, which helps app developers examine, report and mitigate discrimination and bias in machine learning models throughout the AI application lifecycle. This program includes more than 70 fairness metrics and 10 bias mitigation algorithms with relevance to finance, human capital management, healthcare and education. It also contains three tutorials that detect and mitigate age bias in credit scoring, racial bias in medical management, and gender bias in face images.

Microsoft is building a tool to identify bias in a range of different AI algorithms and to raise awareness among its employees.

“The most important thing companies can do right now is educate their workforce so that they’re aware of the myriad ways in which bias can arise and manifest itself and create tools to make models easier to understand and bias easier to detect,” Rich Caruna, a senior Microsoft researcher told the MIT Technology Review last year.

Google has introduced a Google Crash Course: Intro to Fairness module that teaches developers about top fairness considerations when building, evaluating and deploying machine learning models.

Jigsaw, a unit within Google's parent company Alphabet, recently announced a partnership with GLAAD to create public data sets and machine learning research resources to help make online conversations more inclusive of the LGBTQ community.

 “Our mission is help communities have great conversations at scale,” said Cj Adams, Jigsaw Product Manager. “We can't be content to let computers adopt negative biases from the abuse and harassment targeted groups face online.”

It’s not just tech firms who have been proactive on the AI front. Accenture is also getting on board through its new Applied Intelligence practice, which recently launched  the “AI Fairness Tool.” The tool examines data influence of sensitive variables (age, gender, race, etc.) on other variables in a model, measuring how much of a correlation the variables have with each other to see whether they are skewing the model and its outcomes. It then helps correct the bias in the algorithm.

Accenture is currently fielding partners for testing the tool, which it has prototyped so far on a model for credit risk, and is preparing for a soft launch. The tool will be part of a larger program called AI Launchpad, which will help companies create frameworks for accountability and train employees in ethics, so they know what to think about and what questions to ask.

“I’m hoping that this is something we can make accessible and available and easy to use for non-tech companies – for some of our Fortune 500 clients who are looking to expand their use of AI, but they’re very aware and very concerned about unintended consequences,” says Rumman Chowdhury, Accenture’s global responsible AI lead.

No single person has the context to spot everything

Michael Li, founder and CEO of The Data Incubator, a data science training and placement firm, told the Harvard Business Review he believes that “the risks of AI can come from any aspect of business, and no single manager has the context to spot everything. Rather, in a world in which AI is permeating everything, companies need to train all their business leaders on AI’s potential and risks, so that every line of business can spot opportunities and flag concerns.”

He calls on business to offer its employees specialized AI training to understand both the possibilities and the risks. “This is not technical — executives don’t need to be hands-on practitioners — but they do need to understand data science and AI enough to manage AI products and services. Business leaders need to understand the potential for AI to transform business for the better, as well as its potential shortcomings — and dangers.”

Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Renewables Offer New Opportunities to Inspire Consumers

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A new Deloitte survey indicates that residential electricity customers are currently lagging behind in the clean power race. An information overload has left them waiting for guidance. This reality provides business stakeholders with an opportunity to take the lead and help customers, clients and the public at large accelerate the pace at which they adopt renewable energy.

Business stakeholders keep embracing renewables

U.S. businesses have jumped on the renewable energy train in rapidly growing numbers. Much of the acceleration has to do with basic bottom line considerations.

Wind and solar are competing with fossil fuels in a growing number of markets. In addition, evidence is mounting that renewable energy can help attract consumers and clients. 

The ninth annual Deloitte Resources 2019 Study fleshes out this powerful trend. The survey includes the responses of more than 1,500 U.S. residential consumers and 600 businesses.

The study outlines a sharp contrast between residential and business customers. Residential customers care about climate change, but many are stuck in limbo. Meanwhile, businesses are “moving resolutely forward, becoming more sophisticated, achieving success, and upping the ante.”

“Businesses see opportunities to create new value by conserving resources, diversifying energy sources, procuring renewables, and deploying energy management systems and applications,” the study concludes. “Residential consumers are doing the best they can, but for many of them, the value proposition either isn’t there or isn’t clear.”

The consumer connection

The Deloitte survey makes a strong case for businesses to engage their customers on renewable energy.

The study finds that most businesses recognize the public relations value in transitioning to renewables:

“About two-thirds say their customers are demanding that they procure a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources, and a rising portion (72 percent) actively publicize their sourcing of renewables.”

The challenge is relating the business experience to the experience of individual electricity ratepayers.

Until recently, that gulf was a wide one. Renewable energy procurement was dominated by large corporations with a phalanx of consultants providing advice.

Now, as the Deloitte survey indicates, both the lessons that larger companies had learned, in addition to emerging best practices are providing smaller businesses with a smoother pathway for transitioning to renewable energy.

Deloitte notes that many businesses are practicing simple tactics that can be accessible to individual ratepayers. That includes participating in demand response programs and using sensors and timers on various equipment in order to become more energy efficient.

More businesses are also procuring on site renewable energy, mainly in the form of rooftop solar panels. As smaller companies climb onboard this trend, they help to demonstrate that renewable energy can scale down to individual property owners.

The rise of the millennial

In some areas, rooftop solar is already mainstream for consumers and businesses alike. However, state policies vary from one extreme to another across the U.S. Opportunities to work with a local utility also vary greatly from one service territory to another.

Making matters worse, the U.S. public continues to receive false and confusing messages about climate change and renewables from legislators and policy makers - starting from statehouses, to Congress and all the way up to the highest elected official under the U.S. constitution, the current president.

That provides business stakeholders with an opening to create clear, forceful messages about the state of climate science, and about effective pathways for taking action on climate change.

The question is where to begin.

For businesses that want to take the lead, the survey suggests at least one effective pathway for progress: the millennial generation.

The Pew Research Center identifies millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996 - or those persons currently aged 23 to 38.

That age grouping connects the millennial generation with the traditional 18-34 age group coveted by advertisers. It’s also a group that is more receptive to mobile marketing.

While many electricity consumers continue to suffer from a sort of renewable energy malaise, the Deloitte survey finds a bright spot among the millennial participants in the survey.

Millennials “consistently rate clean energy and technology options higher than other age cohorts,” the survey finds, and they are “more receptive to messaging about new products and services, more willing to try them out, and even potentially to pay more for cleaner energy sources if necessary.”

Renewable energy: now what?

For businesses that are determined to spread the renewable energy message, some advice can be gleaned from Deloitte’s guidance to utilities and other energy suppliers.

For electricity providers, Deloitte advises a renewed focus on “engaging and communicating effectively” with millennial electricity customers, as well as identifying millennial concerns that are also common to other generations.

Similarly, business can help provide clarity on renewable energy by publicizing how their own resource management strategies are helping to reduce carbon pollution. That message already resonates strongly with millennials and it can also ripple out to have an impact on other generations.

Clarity on climate change

Business stakeholders have already stepped up to advocate for renewable energy, but the Deloitte survey provides evidence that they can do more.

Businesses can leverage their advertising dollars and their political clout to push back against false messages about climate change and renewable energy.

U.S. businesses have already staked out ground on issues of broad social concern including gun control, LGBTQ equality and immigrant rights and, most recently, abortion rights.

In recent years, they have also been calling on social media and high profile television personalities to account for hate speech and other offensive behavior.

In another significant development, just last week a group of 600 U.S. businesses publicly challenged President Trump on his tariff policy.

The time is right for businesses to lead on renewable energy and climate change, too.

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If You Missed the World Circular Economy Forum 2019 — the Elephant is Still in the Room

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"The World Circular Economy Forum brought together more than 2,000 business leaders, policymakers and experts from around the world to present the best circular economy solutions," it states on its website. As such, it reflects the current state of affairs and the direction of the international community towards transitioning to a circular economy. There’s really no better place to be if you crave a rich multi-stakeholder perspective on the topic in the short span of two days.

The Forums’ key messages were "scale it up," "make it fair and inclusive," and "EU lead the way." There were other messages, which we’ve tipped toed around, but that present the leverage points and recommendations that could actually get us moving and help scale up the transition.

Internalize externalities

Crossing through all discussions was recognition that the “old system is bust." This is because it simply doesn’t take into account the environmental costs or externalities that are inherent to everything we produce and consume. It is profitable for companies to sell twelve suits instead of the two that we really need, or to design products for obsolescence. There are still plenty of financial incentives and subsidies that artificially reduce the price of virgin resources leading to their overuse and making recirculation of secondary materials very difficult to achieve. The moment we start setting up cost structures that recognize the value of natural capital, such as taxing things we want less of (e.g., waste and emissions), subsidizing those that we want more of, leveraging public procurement, and being bold on pricing, our production systems will start to change.

Redefine our approach to value creation

It seems that the most difficult conversation to spin off centered on redefining value. At the moment, value is created through resources extraction and depletion, the success of which is measured through GDP. However, if one were to measure social well-being, that would throw us to the other side of the pendulum. As Janez Potočnik from the International Resource Panel said, “nobody likes the discussion about sufficiency because it’s uncomfortable." But in the world of increasing consumption, resource efficiency is simply not going to contain us within the planetary boundaries.

A circular economy is one where we use fewer non-renewable resources and carefully manage renewable resources. In other words, it is one in which we align our actions and intentions with the commitments we’ve made for sustainable development when we adopted Agenda 21 way back in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, we’ve not moved away from growth to prosperity, and are avoiding the conversation. As Jocelyn Blériot from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation put it, “circular economy principles cannot just be slotted in the current economy — we’re not really making progress where the bulk of consumption is happening, that’s why we need to touch the boundary conditions and open the discussion on the fundamentals”.

That will require a massive collaboration and co-creation effort, bringing key stakeholders and decision makers around one table in a truly multi-stakeholder dialogue, thinking of the world we want to live in and understanding what stands in the way of achieving it, and setting up standards, metrics, and guidelines that will guide us in the right direction of the transition, fair and inclusive, and help us track progress.

End our obsession with deregulation

Another difficult one. As Stientje van Veldhoven, the Minister of the Environment in the Netherlands, said it in her opening speech, “no government is going to prohibit its citizens from fulfilling their material needs and wishes if they have the means to." In other words, political decisions sometimes make for difficult transitions. However, hard as it is to confront, but with current 2.7 Earths consumption patterns, we need some consumption floors and ceilings. If we are to scale things up, business needs clear and predictable policy that creates a level playing field for all — and that’s the role of public officers.

At the same, for most countries that are yet to consume and enroll in the lifestyles and affluence we are lavished with in the developed world, strong policy presents an opportunity to design good regenerative systems from the beginning, instead of coming back at the problem once it’s been created.

Find a unicorn to shift the consumer behavior

Consumer is king. But he also often doesn’t know what’s good or bad for the environment, or has the means/wish to change his behavior. How do you move the tectonic plate that is the consumer demand for business to have the reason to change the way it satisfies this demand? Indeed, somebody forcing a limit on how much and what things I can enjoy is difficult, but raising my awareness is easier.

Peter Bakker, from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, gave great examples why plastic and food waste have become catalyzers for action at an unprecedented level before — “we feel guilty seeing photos of whales choked on plastic or food waste!” Through these examples we see direct consequences of our daily routine actions and behaviors. Finding smart and specific examples like these for each sector — travel, construction, entertainment, etc. — and raising awareness and giving the media coverage they deserve, could move the needle on consumer behavior.

We are in a global emergency, with time really running out. But as Janez Potočnik said, “we are still on the right side of history — it gives a lot of energy."

Previously posted on the GRI blog and the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Lacey Williams/Unsplash

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Points of Light Announces The Civic 50 for 2019

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For almost 30 years, Points of Light has been mobilizing volunteers to the point of what the Atlanta-based nonprofit says now has a reach of 250 cities across 37 nations worldwide.

One way in which this nonprofit seeks to motivate more organizations to boost their citizenship efforts is through its annual Civic 50 awards. These awardees together offer a template for how forward-thinking companies can move community engagement and social impact as focal points of their business.

“Points of Light believes that companies, their employees and partners can be drivers of transformative social change in communities around the world," said Natalye Paquin, president and CEO of Points of Light. “This year’s honorees of The Civic 50 collectively gave $2.3 billion to their communities—often giving 50 percent more than other companies—and volunteered for more than 10.5 million hours in 2019. These results exemplify exceptional corporate leadership in community and civic engagement.”

The Civic 50 honorees are both public and privately-held companies with U.S. operations that have revenues of at least $1 billion. Those companies that make this list are chosen based on four pillars, or should we say, the four “I’s”: investment, integration, institutionalization and impact.

First launched in 2011, these awards offer a standard for corporate citizenship and give organizations ideas on how companies can harness their employees’ time and expertise to improve the quality of life within the communities in which they conduct business.

This year’s Civic 50 reads like an A-to-Z list of leading companies and spans just about every major industry. Companies on this year’s list include Aflac, CVS Health, Deloitte, Delta Air Lines, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Marriott and Symantec. Within the materials sector, Freeport-McMoran leads the pack, according to Points of Light. And when it comes to having a top volunteer culture, General Mills comes out on top this year.

According to Points of Light, there are several ways in which these 50 companies stand out—in terms of their level of community involvement, as well as how intensively they measure their programs’ impact:

Generous giving: On average, the Civic 50 companies have donated more than twice as much when compared to other U.S. companies: $283,000 for every $10 million in revenue earned as opposed to $130,000.

Increasingly sophisticated giving: Almost half of the Civic 50 companies make “multi-faceted investments,” i.e., their grants come with additional support via volunteerism, in-kind goods or services, or multi-year pledges.

Business function integration: Community involvement programs are becoming increasingly integrated with these companies’ functions. The business functions most commonly supported with community involvement are employee engagement (98 percent), marketing or communications (94 percent), and diversity and inclusion programs (90 percent).

Board-level involvement: A large majority (86 percent) of the Civic 50 companies include community involvement in the agenda of at least one of these companies’ board meetings annually.

Social impact and measurement: Two-thirds of the Civic 50 companies gauge the results and social impact of their grants as part of regularly monitored data collection process.

Image credit: Joey Kyber/Unsplash

 

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Pollinator Habitats Are Declining Worldwide, But Business Can Help

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

Bees are necessary to pollinate plants, including crops we use for food, but bee populations are in decline worldwide. For well over a decade, colony collapse disorder (CCD) has shaken the agricultural sector and challenged scientists. This mysterious phenomenon occurs when the majority of adult worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving the queen behind. 

Though reports of CCD have declined in recent years, it’s far from the only threat facing bees. Exposure to pesticides, as well as parasites, pests and pathogens, continue to threaten the health of bee populations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Bees and other insects are also increasingly vulnerable to habitat loss and weather fluctuations associated with climate change. 

Co-director of the pollinator program for the Xerces Society, Eric Lee-Mader is the go-to guy for bees. Based in Portland, Oregon, the Xerces Society is among several groups spearheading the effort to protect pollinator habitats and stabilize bee populations worldwide. 

Their hard work is paying off: “We have more research [and] more concrete science than we've had before,” Mader told 3p. “For a long time, pollinator declines were partially documented, partially speculative. And we're now entering the timeframe where they're more documented and less speculative.”  

That’s the good news. With more research and better science, the picture comes into stark focus. “Consistently across the board, what we see is that the declines are real,” Mader told us. “In some cases, the declines are really catastrophic.” 

TriplePundit last spoke with Mader back in 2017. We recently caught up with him for an update on the science, conservation, and management of pollinators and their habitats. “The situation is not improving, and arguably it's deeper and more entrenched and getting worse than we have previously thought,” he explained. “I think we arrive at kind of a holistic picture of what's going on with pollinators by looking at this whole spectrum of different studies that are out there now being published.”

Among the recent research, a paper published in the journal Biological Conservation earlier this year found that more than 40 percent of insect species globally are threatened with extinction within “the next few decades.” Similarly, the landmark “insect Armageddon” study published in 2017 warned of a 75 percent loss of insect biomass since the 1980s. 

Among many of the drivers pushing pollinators to the brink, like climate change and the pervasive use of chemical pesticides, is habitat loss from intensive agricultural land conversion. 

“Conservatively speaking, just in agricultural lands, there’s probably been a 20 million-acre loss of habitat over the past decade,” Mader says. Countering that trend is approximately 700,000 acres of land restoration for pollinator habitat, according to best estimates.

There is no candy-coating the situation. Clearly, we humans must do more to address the precipitous decline of bees and other at-risk insects. 

What business can do to save the bees 

An important part of Mader’s work is collaborating with businesses and their agricultural supply chains. The Xerces Society works with food and agriculture companies like General Mills in a multi-pronged approach aimed at consumer awareness, habitat conservation and on-the-ground guidance for improving agricultural practices. 

When we spoke with Mader, he had just returned from a trip to California on behalf of General Mills. The Xerces Society’s collaboration with the company began about seven years ago with some pilot projects to help restore pollinator habitat on tomato and almond fields in California’s Central Valley.   

Based on these initial projects, Xerces developed “very high-quality, compelling case studies and demonstration of how we can incorporate habitat at scale back into [a company’s] supplier farms,” Mader told us. Farmers working with Xerces added miles of hedgerows, native perennial wildflower strips and cover crops, where before the Valley's vast almond orchards were “like moonscapes below the trees,” Mader said.  

“We really flipped that model around and worked with [farmers] to formulate and develop feed mixes that can provide flowers and habitat in the orchard itself and can be mowed down before the harvest happens,” he told us. “It's completely compatible with their management system.”

These new plantings provide vital habitat for pollinators and other insects, allowing both agricultural land and natural ecosystems to co-exist together. The success of these early models motivated General Mills to come back to Xerces to scale up these methods to a “significantly larger portion of their supply chain,” Mader explained. 

The landscape is changing 

Against the backdrop of the somber story of pollinators, the landscape is changing—literally. “Collectively, we're putting in miles of hedgerows every year; we're putting in acres and acres and acres of flowering habitats and flowering cover crops on farms,” Mader said. “Just through that supply chain work ... we are easily impacting tens of thousands of acres of farmland and creating conditions that are significantly more amenable to pollinators.” 

Efforts like these make an impact, but Mader stresses that the food and agricultural sector needs more participants like General Mills that are truly committed to take the problem seriously. 

This is the real message here: Key partnerships between science, research and business have proven solutions. What we need now is for the food industry to step up, at scale, and implement these solutions. 

Otherwise, the cupboard is bare, as demonstrated by this pop-up installation in Toronto. In 2017, General Mills' Honey Nut Cheerio's team in Canada opened a temporary “Grocery Store of the Future,” which shows what our food supply would look like with and without bees. 

Here's a typical grocery store: 

a future grocery store if we protect bees

And here's what those same shelves would look like if we fail to protect bee populations: 

grocery store if we fail to protect pollinator habitats

As is often said, a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Image credits: Eric Ward, Aaron Burden and General Mills

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Lingrove’s ‘Fake Wood’ Is One Answer to Deforestation

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In spite of efforts by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to increase sustainably harvested wood, deforestation continues to be a major problem worldwide, and it is getting worse. Annually, development, from farms to building tracts, has resulted in the destruction of more than 32 million acres of forests.

This loss of forests contributes significantly to climate change: the FSC says deforestation causes 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions--let alone damaging lands in which wildlife and people that rely on forests live.

Drastic action must be taken and the XPRIZE’s Future of Forests Impact Roadmap identifies 10 breakthroughs needed to slow or stop the destruction. First is “super-wood,' defined as a “sustainably-produced alternative for wood” that has similar properties, thus shifting the reliance on virgin wood away from natural forests.

Barking up the right tree

Lingrove, a start-up in San Francisco, is well on its way to achieving this breakthrough with its product called Ekoa. The biomaterial was originally developed for Blackbird Guitars as a tonewood (wood most suitable for acoustic instruments) replacer and its name is derived from koa, an exotic Hawaiian wood used for ukuleles and guitars. In 2014, Blackbird Guitar's Clara ukulele won JEC's Composite Innovation Award. Its Savoy guitar also received a very positive review from a music publication in 2018 - so clearly, Lingrove’s product can compete on both durability and quality.

Ekoa combines Canada-grown flax (linen) fiber with a cashew-based bioresin. Flax is a fast growing and hardy grass-like plant that can survive drought and poor soil conditions. The flax fibers help provide the natural grain look of the product. More importantly, the fibers are considered carbon-negative because they sequester carbon during the growth cycle, which isn’t released during processing of the composite material.

Third-party testing results that Lingrove has disclosed make the point that Ekoa could perform even better than wood and other competing materials as follows:

  • Three times the vibration damping of glass

  • 30 percent lighter than carbon fiber

  • Stiffer than aerospace-grade fiberglass

  • Stable over a wide temperature range

  • Flame and humidity resistant

Its cost, according to Lingrove, is much lower than premium wood and similar to aerospace-grade fiberglass.

Conventional processing combined with sustainability

Flax fibers are combined with resins in a continuous process. Conventional composites processing methods are used including vacuum bagging, compression molding, wet layup, autoclave and bladder molding. Specifications such as color, moisture, ultraviolet and fire resistance can be designed into the raw fibers or resin before the composites process. Specialty backings can also be introduced during this process to add thickness or other functional benefits, such as acoustic performance. The finished material is available as rollstock.

In late 2017, Lingrove launched Ekoa TP, which uses a lignin-based thermoplastic for industrial-scale fast processing and recyclability. The look and feel of wood is still obtained but with much better sustainability. After the product is cut and layered in a mold, it’s easily compression molded into three-dimensional composite shapes for interior and furniture applications.

Ekoa is now being produced at a continuous sheet production capacity of 2,500 feet per day, with a goal to scale up to 5,000 feet per day. In the future, Lingrove is looking at incorporating more agricultural waste, more bio-plastics and more post-industrial, post-consumer recycled resins in its formulation.

Besides Blackbird Guitar, Steelcase is a major customer. Lingrove also has projects underway with large companies in interiors, transportation, sports and some consumer electronics. Some products applicable to the construction market include moldable veneers for furniture and surfaces, and structural panels.  

Although Lingrove claims it has no direct competitors, it does compete with the same applications made from high-energy consuming materials such as fiberglass, carbon fiber, polyvinyl chloride and vinyl, reconstituted wood and even some metals.

Not out of the deforestation woods yet

Despite no direct competitors, Lingrove still has marketing challenges to overcome. “Disrupting the materials landscape is easier said than done,” says Elaine Chow, a co-founder of the company and Lingrove’s director of business development. “There are a lot of rules and regulations around what materials can be used and where.”

She also explains the many reasons why bio-based and upcycled materials have been slow to gain traction. These factors include higher cost, smaller scale, lower performance and a less desirable aesthetic. “At Lingrove, we want to reframe what bio-based and recycled materials look, feel and work like,” says Chow. “We believe Ekoa sits at the intersection of ecology, desirability, scale and high performance.”

Image credit: Lingrove

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