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Green Brexit or no deal chaos? How the Brexit deal offers a path without a destination

MPs voting on Johnson’s Brexit deal may not know which future is on the horizon

Without environmental standards enshrined within Withdrawal Agreement, green experts fear Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal leaves the door open for a deregulatory blitz

There are not many people in Westminster willing to make a call about which way the vote will go tomorrow. MPs are due to pass judgement on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Withdrawal Agreement, during…

Source: – Business Green
Author: Continue reading Green Brexit or no deal chaos? How the Brexit deal offers a path without a destination

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Global Briefing: Trump to axe climate change from G7 agenda

BusinessGreen Leaders Summit 2019

BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit will bring together some of the UK’s top green executives, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, campaigners, and politicians to explore the next phase of the net zero transition, the emergence of circular economy business models, and the impact of emerging clean technology

Source: – Business Green
Author: Continue reading Global Briefing: Trump to axe climate change from G7 agenda

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UK’s natural capital valued at almost £1tr

Is the UK’s natural world worth £1tr?

Office for National Statistics estimates value of Britain’s natural capital assets, such as mountains, lakes and fish populations

Britain’s nature, landscapes, and waterways coupled with the services and benefits they provide are worth almost £1tr to the UK economy, according to latest natural capital assessment from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

ONS figures released today estimate that with the addition of new services provided by the UK’s natural assets the partial value of natural capital in the country reached £951bn in 2016, the most recent year for which it has calculated the figure.

The natural capital assessment estimates the value of the UK’s natural world and the services it provides, covering agriculture, human health, tourism, and renewable energy, among other economic factors. Services and benefits assessed include fish stocks, timber, water abstraction, fossil fuels, minerals and renewable energy.

“From these assets, people receive a flow of services, such as mountain hikes and fish captured for consumption,” the ONS explained. “We can value the benefit to society of those services by estimating what the hikers spent to enable them to walk over the mountain or any profit from bringing the fish into the market.”

Advocates of the natural capital school of thought have long argued that enhanced environmental assets can deliver huge economic benefits in terms of productivity gains, climate resilience, improved agricultural yields, and better risk management. As such, they maintain that putting a financial value on such assets can aid policy-making and investment decisions, providing both economic and environmental gains.

Critics, however, have countered it is impossible to place an accurate financial value on the natural world, and that doing so can encourage governments and businesses to continue to degrade the environment, while claiming that making a separate financial investment can offset the damage.

The statistics released today also include more recent figures for after 2016 that cover UK farming, renewable energy, air pollution and the amount of time people spend outdoors.

They estimate that living within 500 metres of green and blue space is worth £78bn to UK homes, and that on average people in Wales spend over three times longer on outdoor recreation than people in England.

And on hot days in 2017, the cooling shade of trees and water helped to save the UK £248m by maintaining productivity and lowering air conditioning costs, ONS estimates, while more than 1,200 years of human life were saved through vegetation removing air pollution that year.

The statistic also highlight how coal production reached an all-time low last year, as it is now 16 times lower than it was in 1998, while renewable power grew from five per cent of UK generation in 2008 to 35 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, UK timber production has increased by more than 50 per cent since 2000 – largely in Scotland – and the feedstock for livestock grazing in 2018 made up 61 per cent of UK agricultural biomass, according to the statistics.

Source: – Business Green
Author: Continue reading UK’s natural capital valued at almost £1tr

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IMF says it is ‘gearing up’ to integrate climate risks into economic analysis

New IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva says climate risk should be ‘front and centre’ of the financial body’s work

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is “gearing up to very rapidly” integrate climate and environmental risks into its economic analyses, the organisation’s new head Kristalina Georgieva has said, in what would be hugely significant policy shift for one of the world’s top financial bodies.

In one of her first major public appearances since taking up the post at the start of the month, Georgieva took part in a panel discussion entitled ‘Can Central Banks Fight Climate Change?’ at the IMF’s annual meetings in Washington DC this week.

In move that has been warmly welcomed by green groups, she immediately sought to place climate change high on her and the IMF’s agenda, while also calling on central bankers to take bolder action to address the climate crisis and better account for climate risk across their investments and monetary policies.

Moreover, the Bulgarian economist – previously chief executive of the World Bank – confirmed the IMF was rapidly moving to integrate climate risk into its own economic analysis.

“The IMF is gearing up very rapidly to integrate climate risks in our surveillance work,” she reportedly said on Wednesday. “When we are working in countries that are either big emitters of carbon and need to transition, or are at high risk of carbon shocks, there is no way to address the fundamentals of their economies without looking at these climate risks.”

The IMF is already incorporating environmental and climate factors into its analysis of higher risk countries and would like to make it routine, she explained, adding that most central banks now see climate disclosure and stress-testing as crucial for addressing risks, according to The Straits Times.

“This is now a category of risk that absolutely needs to be front and centre in our work,” Georgieva said. “The criticality of addressing climate change for financial stability, for making sure that we can have sustainable growth, is so very clear and proven today that no institution, no individual, can stand back from the responsibility to act.”

Headquartered in Washington DC, the IMF consists of 189 member countries and works foster global cooperation on monetary policy, financial stability and international trade, and is able to lend up to $1tr in total to its member countries. It also provides economic analysis and advice as part of its remit to ‘promote high employment and sustainable growth, and reduce poverty around the world’.

As such, a move to incorporate climate risks into its analysis of national economies could provide governments with a major incentive to step up investment in climate resilience and decarbonisation if they want to access IMF support.  

The comments from Georgieva form part of a growing trend. The Financial Stability Board set of the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in 2015, which has developed a set of guidelines for assessing climate risk which has won the backing of rapidly growing numbers of businesses and organisations. In the past few weeks alone, both Bank of England governor and the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority have warned investors and listed firms more stringent climate-related regulations are in the pipeline.

The IMF also last week published the October issue of its regular Fiscal Monitor report, in which climate change featured heavily. The document presents arguments for fiscal policy with a strong emphasis on carbon pricing as a tool for helping tackle destructive climate impacts.

Green figures welcomed the IMF’s moves. Nick Mabey, co-founder and CEO of think tank E3G, hailed the Georgieva’s announcement as “by far the biggest climate change news of this week – or indeed this year”, while his E3G colleague Camilla Born added it was “very encouraging”.

Matti Kohonen, Christian Aid’s principle private sector advisor, also welcomed Georgieva’s comments, but urged the IMF to now place a strong emphasis on transitioning to renewable forms of energy and building climate resilience.

“Climate impacts are already having a huge economic impact on countries and their people so it makes sense to factor it in when calculating a nation’s economic health,” he said. “But it’s important that the IMF helps big carbon emitting states to de-risk their economies by transitioning from fossil fuels to more sustainable renewable energy and boost access to this clean energy. Meanwhile, for countries with high risk of climate impacts the IMF should help them build resilience and to develop sustainably.”

Source: – Business Green
Author: Continue reading IMF says it is ‘gearing up’ to integrate climate risks into economic analysis

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Meet the Green Radicals: John Elkington on cross-pollination, getting sued, and the ‘Exponential Decade’

At next week’s BusinessGreen Leaders Summit BusinessGreen will publish a new report, in association with Greenhouse PR, featuring interviews with some of the leading green radicals who are working to reshape the economy and our collective response to the climate crisis.  

Following last year’s ‘Meet the Disruptors‘ report and 2017’s ‘Secrets of the Pioneers‘ report, this year’s series of interviews features some of the leading green business figures and activists who have embraced a new form of green radicalism in a bid to engineer a step change in the pace of UK decarbonisation.

As a preview to the report we are today publishing our exclusive interview with Volans’ John Elkington, the entrepreneur and writer who has been at the forefront of green business thinking for four decades.

John Elkington is an author, advisor and serial green entrepreneur, who during his 40-year career has written or co-written 19 books on sustainability and economics and served on more than 70 boards and advisory boards.

As well as co-founding ENDS Report and think tank SustainAbility, John set up sustainability consultancy Volans Ventures in 2008. In September 2019 he help launch Business Declares, a movement inspired by Extinction Rebellion aimed at encouraging companies to declare and take action on the climate emergency.

BusinessGreen: Do you think it is important that we respond to the climate/environmental emergency?

John Elkington: Once, I would have simply answered “Yes” to this question. That was then. These days, I am afraid, the fact that we still feel a need to ask the question makes me wonder whether our species deserves to survive. With decades of scientific evidence suggesting we have triggered the biggest excursion in atmospheric carbon levels in over 400,000 years, taking them to concentrations that pretty much guarantee tens of metres of sea level rise, alongside driving what ecologists are now calling the Sixth Great Extinction event in Earth’s history, my sense is that any artificial intelligence worth its salt – or electrons – would, like Freud, conclude we have a death wish encompassing all life. If, instead, the question is whether we should be talking of a climate emergency at all, my sense is that this term actually soft-pedals where we find ourselves.

Why do you think we need green radicals at a time like this?

Because most people remain wilfully ignorant. If you believe the polls, large number now believe we can turn the corner on climate breakdown by switching to paper straws. Well, good luck with that. Given such entrenched myopia, the rights of future generations of all life must now be dramatised, celebrated, and protected. The emancipation of slaves and the enfranchisement of women was radically accelerated by radical actions. And now here we go again. In April, I supported the first round of Extinction Rebellion protests with a letter to The Times, signed by over 20 CEOs and business leaders. A few of our clients strongly disapproved that we were taking a political stance, which makes me wonder whether they have any sense of the nature and scale of the crisis and, as a result, the opportunity for come up the necessary solutions.

How would you define a green radical? 

It’s not a term I use, though to me radical thinking has always been a good, necessary thing in that it strips issues back to their roots – and radical action then builds out from that understanding. The difference these days is that you could just as easily apply the term to Bank of England Government Mark Carney as to the heads of NGOs like Greenpeace or Greta Thunberg.

Do we need to redefine markets to tackle the climate emergency?

No question. Even capitalists now admit that capitalism is broken. The Financial Times recently ran that banner front page with the message: “Capitalism: Time for a Reset.” The times, by God, they are a-changin’. Expecting ordinary people to change the world is a misdirect. Leadership means seeing ahead and doing what the future wants us to before the led even see the need. Unfortunately, today’s politicians have collectively snorted some form of narcissism enhancer – and have become wilfully blind and deaf to those who can see what’s coming at us all.

Do you regard yourself/your organisation as a green radical?

I have spent the last 40 years avoiding the sort of labels others would apply to people like me. If they thought you were an “environmentalist”, they would apply a 95 per cent discount factor to anything you said on related subjects. Truth be told, I have always been what some would see as a trouble-maker, albeit one who has chosen to operate through capitalism, markets and business. Volans disrupts Milton Friedman’s dictum that “the business of business is business” by insisting that “the business of business is change”.

How has your organisation taken a radical approach to environmental action?

We were the first British B Corporation in the UK, which we now see as the entry level for the future. We measure our positive impact mainly in terms of our relationships with clients, whether through projects, boards or advisory boards. For example, I recently joined the board of Conservation X Labs in Los Angeles, whose modest ambition is to “reverse extinction.”

How do you build the business case for radical change?

By pointing to places in the world where radical futures already exist and are working – on the basis that anything that exists is unlikely to be impossible.

What’s the biggest barrier to you making change?

Two things come to mind: Human nature and economics, although the discipline is beginning to evolve. And, if I were to add a third, the reality bubbles created by the media, and social media in particular.

How have customers, employees, and other stakeholders responded?

Most embrace what we are doing. But some wonder whether we have taken leave of our senses, eschewing professionalism and objectivity in favour of agendas they struggle to get their brains around.

How do you inspire others to radicalism?

I am not a missionary. If anything, I am a catalyst, or as my job title puts it, a cross-pollinator.

What’s the secret to taking a radical idea mainstream?

Timing – and a well-developed theory of change. And stamina.

Which area of the economy do you think is most in need of radical change?

Two that I think are going to get it in the neck in the Exponential Decade, the 2020s, are finance (most obviously) and agriculture and food. In the latter case, if you’re interested (and we all should be) and you haven’t read the RethinkX report in the coming disruption of the cow economy, do it now.

What’s the most radical thing you have ever done?

Taking LSD in 1968, says my wife of 51 years, who I met that year. Other than that writing books that upset key clients. Our million-selling Green Consumer Guide back in 1988 led to us being sued for libel by McDonald’s and three different parts of the old ICI, a long-standing client of mine at the time. We won in every case. Some, more recently, might point to my product recall (via the Harvard Business Review) of the triple bottom line, which I launched back in 1994.

Who are the other green radicals that inspire you today? (and have in the past?)

Where to begin? I lit many of my influences on my personal website. These days I would have to say Greta Thunberg. Some in the media would love to cover the story of her burning out – which has to be a real risk. She is a giant, whatever her age and height.

What one radical thing would you like people to do right now to change our future?

To stop believing that is all going to work out fine. It isn’t. And stop thinking that with one more small push we’ll be there. We won’t. This a multi-generational challenge that will require all of us to exert every sinew for decades. 

This Q&A is one of a series set to be included in the forthcoming report ‘Meet the Green Radicals’, produced in association with Greenhouse PR

Source: – Business Green
Author: Continue reading Meet the Green Radicals: John Elkington on cross-pollination, getting sued, and the ‘Exponential Decade’

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5 emerging jobs in the circular economy

The circular economy is celebrated as a trillion-dollar opportunity beginning to penetrate industries around the world. There’s no sector or region left untouched by the potential for reinventing systems, products and services in a fashion that ultimately creates no waste and even regenerates natural systems. At least that’s the hope among evangelists of circularity, notably the Ellen MacArthur Foundation alongside many hundreds of corporations aligned on various ambitious circular goals.

Circular concepts and business models are already taking off internationally, maybe most visibly in Europe. But even in the United States, there’s no shortage of job postings that include explicitly circular terms in their descriptions. In other cases, you’ll have to read between the lines when scouring other sustainability roles, which is easy enough if you wear the lens of rewriting any or all of the “take,” “make” or “waste” flows of business.

Judging by the corporate momentum toward circularity, the opportunities are only going to expand. Just as jobs in solar and wind power in the emerging renewable energy landscape outpaced work in the sputtering coal industry within a mere decade, so too will a circular workforce replace outmoded roles from high-carbon, high-waste economies. 

Already in the Netherlands 8 percent of all jobs are circular, according to a 2015 report by Circle Economy (PDF), an Amsterdam-based think tank that divides circular jobs into three categories. That includes “core” circular jobs, including those that involve regenerative resources, extend the life of products and rethink business models. Then there are “enabling” circular jobs, including designing for the future. And finally the “indirectly” circular jobs, in education, government and professional services, all support the more core circular functions.

These five roles are helping to drive early circular economy transformations:

1. Product and packaging designer

Think of all the objects you buy, unwrap, consume or otherwise handle every day. Most need to be radically reinvented in order to keep plastics out of the oceans and carbon out of the atmosphere. To help that process along, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) together with design firm IDEO worked on a Circular Design Guide to inspire and inform the design community. It took the organizations about a year to calculate that there are about 160 million designers on the planet, EMF’s Andrew Morlet said at the GreenBiz Circularity 19 event in June. By 2025 EMF and IDEO seek to reach 80 million of these designers, engaging 20 million to design products in innovative new ways.

Whether you’re an industrial designer, an architect, fashion designer or really anyone else who makes things, there’s a calling to rewrite the industrialized, high-carbon story of stuff, in which more plastic than fish soon will populate the ocean. It’s not just the stuff that counts but the packaging in which its kept, so that needs to be rethought to be continuously reused or recycled in ways that don’t diminish the quality of their original ingredients. Loop‘s chic reusable packaging for ice cream, toothpaste and other consumables sold by the world’s biggest brands, for example, is one glimpse at some possibilities.

2. Circular investment specialist

High finance is starting to laser in on the unique solutions driving circularity. The Larry Fink-led BlackRock with EMF last week opened a $20 million circular economy fund of publicly traded companies, including Adidas (recycler of polyester) and Tomra (operator of reverse vending machines). Firms that are already ahead of the game and backing early-stage firms include Closed Loop Ventures in New York City and Circularity Capital out of Edinburgh, Scotland. Closed Loop Ventures-backed startups include AMP Robotics (using AI to shrink recycling costs), Loliware (making straws from seaweed) and Tradelanes (automating export processes). Investment professionals who focus on mature and emerging companies alike will need to bone up on their research and learn the vocabulary of circularity in order to select the solutions with the greatest returns.

3. Customer service, beyond purchasing

Would you like to lease or buy that? Such a refrain may become common at the cash register, as more stores offer rental services for their gear alongside previously owned merchandise. Salespeople will need a new script for helping consumers choose a wider array of options, as well as additional training to understand and sell the environmental attributes of their offerings. Customer service and sales professionals should become more hip to language and sales models around circularity, as well as understanding the quality and longevity of particular brands.

The fashion world is already walking the walk. The RealReal’s unicorn status and popularity of resale sites such as ThredUp support projections that clothing resale will reach $51 billion in sales by 2023. Yerdle Recommerce helps big brands to run Patagonia Worn Wear, REI Used Gear and Eileen Fisher Renew white-label services for reselling pre-worn apparel. Even some mom-and-pop vintage fashion boutiques offer garment rentals, which makes sense if you see no need to wear a Summer-of-Love Pucci shirt more than once in a lifetime. 

4. Reverse logistics manager

Retailers are struggling to keep up with the 20 percent of goods ordered online that consumers send back, projected to cost retailers $550 billion by 2020. Scandalously, billions of pounds of those items are dumped or burned every year.

That all gives new importance to the people in charge of reverse logistics, who must reduce damage both to the bottom line and the environment. The increased volume and complexity of handling returns involves high-level strategic planning. Big data and artificial intelligence will help track materials down to the molecule so they can be repurposed and removed from waste streams. 

And it’s not just about consumer goods; corporations can save on costs by reusing, repurposing or sharing industrial machines and products. There’s room for efforts to crop up as matchmakers for spent materials and willing takers, along the lines of the Austin Materials Marketplace. The reverse logistics operations probably most familiar to consumers are the recycling of bottles, cans and newspapers — and that work needs to be refined, too, in order to increase efficiency and extract more value from materials including plastics.

Beyond the white collar, “recommerce”-associated work includes the inspection and classification of incoming used merchandise for resale — not just for clothing, but for other items people tend to borrow from a friend or neighbor, such as yard tools or carpet shampoo machines. That provides ground-level, hands-on work for those with a fine eye for small details.

5. Product lifecycle manager

This role no longer will follow the linear path from a product’s origin story, perhaps starting in a mine, to its likely demise in a landfill. Reverse logistics is part of the not-quite-end-of-life story for goods in a circular economy, but product lifecycle management takes an even broader view to closing supply chain gaps. It can involve creating new types of products and ways to make them, as well as finding new sourcing avenues and channels of distribution.

The familiar job-description bullet points calling for “big picture thinking” plus “attention to detail” will be essential. For example, this recent Amazon listing for program manager of its WW Product Lifecycle Support Program involves “returns, re-commerce, and rentals,” and sums up the new circular shape of lifecycle management like so:

Our work is broad and deep: we train machine learning models to automate routing and find signals to optimize re-use; we invent new channels to give products a second life; we develop world-class product support to help customers love what they buy; we pilot smarter product evaluations; we work from the customer backward to find ways to make the return experience remarkably delightful and easy; and we do it all while scrutinizing our business with laser focus. …This will be a high visibility role that requires an individual to be a thought leader, influencer, technical expert, and visionary globally.

Ultimately, the circular economy only reaches its world-changing potential once circularity-related work becomes understated and broadly understood as business as usual. The circular niche will become the mainstream, and nobody will feel the need to spell it out as part of a job function. However, that hasn’t even happened yet with roles explicitly related to sustainablity, which leaves plenty of opportunities to get to work.

Author: Continue reading 5 emerging jobs in the circular economy

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Episode 193: Combating food waste, measuring plastic footprints, get ready to advocate

Commentary on this week’s featured stories starts at 8:13.


A zest for combating food waste (20:45)

Zest Labs has zeroed in on one small, but critical, link of the food waste challenge: using technology to understand why produce might spoil while in transit to retailers, or shortly after a consumer buys it, and find ways to prevent that from happening. Tune in for outtakes from GreenBiz Associate Editor Deonna Anderson’s interview with Zest CEO Peter Mehring.

This startup helps you get a grip on your plastic footprint (28:20)

RePurpose is a social startup, born at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on helping consumers and businesses calculate and offset plastics consumption. We spoke with co-founder Svanika Balasubramanian about graduate research that inspired her team, the two big challenges that rePurpose addresses and how companies might use the platform.

A call for corporate climate leadership (35:29)

This week, 11 major environmental groups published an open letter in the New York Times calling on companies to adopt science-based targets for reducing their GHG emissions — and to urge the trade associations they support to do the same. The call to action further urges business leaders to get more active at lobbying for governmental policies intended to counter and mitigate climate change. Dropping in to chat about this new call to action is Victoria Mills, managing director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

*Music in this episode by Lee Rosevere: “Try Anything Once,” “Credit Roll,” “Curiosity,” “Late Night Tales,” “I’m Going for a Coffee” and “As I Was Saying”

What’s new at GreenBiz?

The power of nature. Wondering how to put natural climate solutions to work for your business? The participants on this interactive webcast will discuss how to use a new GHG accounting framework to address deforestation, soil health, land-use change, biodiversity, regenerative agriculture and more. Register for this interactive webcast at 11 a.m. EST Nov. 12.

Do we have a newsletter for you! We produce five weekly newsletters: GreenBuzz by Executive Editor Joel Makower (Monday), Transport Weekly by Senior Writer and Analyst Katie Fehrenbacher (Tuesday), VERGE Weekly by Executive Director Shana Rappaport and Editorial Director Heather Clancy (Wednesday), Energy Weekly by Senior Energy Analyst Sarah Golden (Thursday) and Circular Weekly by Director and Senior Analyst Lauren Phipps (Friday). You must subscribe to each newsletter in order to receive it. Please visit this page to choose the newsletters you want to receive.

Check out our Center Stage podcast, which features the best of live interviews on sustainable business and clean technology, conducted on stage at GreenBiz and VERGE conferences.

The GreenBiz Intelligence Panel is the survey body we poll regularly throughout the year on key trends and developments in sustainability. To become part of the panel, click here. Enrolling is free and should take two minutes.

Stay connected

To make sure you don’t miss the newest episodes of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

Author: Continue reading Episode 193: Combating food waste, measuring plastic footprints, get ready to advocate

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Iowa’s farmers are ready for a national discussion on transforming US agriculture

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses bring the state a lot of political attention during presidential election cycles. But in my view, even though some candidates have outlined positions on food and farming, agriculture rarely gets the attention it deserves.

As a scientist at Iowa’s land-grant university, I believe our state is at the forefront of redefining what agriculture could be in the United States, and addressing environmental and economic challenges associated with the extensive monocultures that dominate our current system. I think these conversations should be at the forefront nationally. After all, everyone needs to eat, so all Americans have a stake in the future of farming.

As Iowa farms, so farms the nation

Iowa is a leading global producer of corn, soy, pork, beef, eggs, ethanol, biodiesel, biochemicals and agricultural technology. Because it is home to just 3.2 million people, Iowa farmers export the vast majority of what they produce. Most multinational agricultural businesses have Iowa offices, and the state also has considerable influence on U.S. farm bill legislation.

Iowans are also acutely aware of the challenges of modern agriculture, which affect their lands and livelihoods. They include soil degradation, water contamination, flooding and loss of carbon and habitat for native species.

Farmers understand these effects, and many are actively working to reduce them, as operational, financial and social conditions allow. One example in which I am involved is the STRIPS project, in which scientists, farmers, land owners and others are partnering to test the effects of seeding narrow strips with native prairie plants within and around corn and soybean fields.

Over the last 13 years, we have shown that prairie is a valuable tool for protecting water supplies and providing habitat for wildlife, including pollinators. Planting just 10 percent of farm fields — often in the least productive zones — with stiff-stemmed native prairie grasses helps hold water and sediment in place, reducing erosion and nutrient loss from fields. The strips also contain flowering plants that support birds and insects, including pollinators and natural enemies of crop pests.

Farmers describe the benefits of integrating small strips of prairie into row crop fields.

This approach can turn low-yielding acres into an opportunity to reduce use of inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides. Today there are nearly 600 acres of prairie strips on about 5,000 acres of cropland on 66 farms across in six Midwestern states. My colleagues and I expect these numbers to grow dramatically now that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is supporting prairie strips as a conservation tool.

Iowa State University scientists are working with industry to create sensors and computer models that enable farmers to manage their fields for improved outcomes. They also are developing supply chain tracking systems that will allow consumers to use a phone app to get information about the farm that grew or raised a product before they purchase it.

Many groups are involved in these efforts. The Iowa chapter of The Nature Conservancy is working with agricultural retailers on improving fertilizer management. Collaborations of farmers, crop breeders and food suppliers — facilitated by organizations such as Practical Farmers of Iowa — are fueling a renaissance in the production of small grains such as oats and rye.

Speeding up the transition

A decade ago, my colleagues and I brought national, state and local leaders together for a dialogue on the future of Iowa agriculture. While we did not capture all the details, we largely anticipated this gradual shift toward more economically and environmentally sustainable farming methods.

As we see it, macro-scale forces are driving this transition. Global commodity markets reward efficient production, requiring farmers to do more with less. Americans demand stronger action to protect the environment. Federal farm policies increasingly encourage conservation and soil health. And new technologies enable farmers to seed and treat crops more precisely and reduce harmful impacts such as nutrient pollution.

I believe a much brighter future is possible if government officials, agricultural businesses and farm, commodity and environmental organizations can unite around a transformative goal. For example, the national, state and local leaders we gathered to discuss the future of Iowa agriculture proposed an initiative to double the full value — monetary and non-monetary — of our state’s agricultural economy over 25 years.

With widespread support, such an effort could usher in a new era of economic and environmental wealth in Farm Belt states. It would start with investing in regenerative systems —farming methods that produce agricultural goods and services while also improving soil and water resources, unique habitats and pastoral countrysides. And it would require simultaneous investments in rural infrastructure, new businesses and local and regional markets.

An alternative future

What would this transformed system look like? By the 2028 Iowa caucuses, dynamic public-private partnerships of farmers, landowners and others could be working to increase crop diversity and rotations, expand conservation practices and develop necessary markets and infrastructure, such as rural broadband.

More farmers would be planting cover crops such as winter rye to help their fields retain nutrients, improve soil health and control weeds. Those who raise corn and soybeans could partner with neighboring livestock producers to grow winter crops for grazing, leaving fewer fields bare.

Surveys show that Americans are willing to pay for initiatives that provide multiple benefits from farmlands. Reinvestments in agriculture, renewable energy, rural development and conservation programs could be funded philanthropically and through the U.S. farm bill.

By the 2048 caucuses, Iowa and other farm states where farmers mainly raise commodity crops such as corn and soybeans could be producing a wide variety of goods and services, including annual and perennial grains, fiber and biomass crops, livestock, wind and solar energy, ethanol, biodiesel, fruits, vegetables, nuts and hops. Managing farm landscapes for carbon, nutrients, water and wildlife could be as central to farming as crop management is today.

Easy access to rural broadband, plus advances in sensors, artificial intelligence and robotics, would enable highly precise nutrient management, pest and disease control and manure handling.

Small towns could be ringed with agrihoods — planned communities built around working farms and community gardens. They would be vibrant and desirable places to live, offering high-tech jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, an affordable cost of living and outdoor recreation opportunities.

A national conversation

Agriculture is always changing. U.S. elected leaders hold substantial influence over this process through their public platforms and ability to make policy.

A decade ago, my colleagues and I saw a choice for U.S. agriculture: incremental improvement; or a push for transformational change that would improve communities and landscapes in farm country. The incremental approach is not moving quickly enough, and rural communities and landscapes are suffering as a result.

Transformational change could look like the future I have described. How do we make it happen? Iowa and other farm states are ready for that conversation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Author: Continue reading Iowa’s farmers are ready for a national discussion on transforming US agriculture

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Key ingredients for scaling circular reuse business models

Companies are setting bold goals that address plastic waste and prioritize plastics reduction and recycling. The media and influencers have woken the public to the need to support solutions to this global challenge, and governments are taking big and small steps to build effective policy. 

We are at a moment where we have the political will from most stakeholders to solve this issue, but in order to maintain that will, we must leverage the current momentum to show real progress in the coming years. 

There is no silver bullet. We need to use every tool in the box to achieve this outcome — new material science, packaging redesign, recovery innovation and the subject at hand, reuse.

Just a few years ago the idea of scaling reuse habits among the public would have felt like an unlikely reality. But today, large consumer goods companies and retailers realize that contemporary reuse models can and must be part of solutions for addressing plastic waste and consumption. 

Because of this, we are seeing a wave of innovation in reuse business models. We are excited by the solutions we are seeing and are supporting innovation through our investment funds and our Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners.  

While these models are likely to look different in different geographical contexts, successful models will have certain key ingredients to drive uptake by brands, retailers and consumers. 

  1. Cost competitiveness: We know consumers want to reduce waste, but we have little evidence that reusable solutions will scale if they are more expensive than conventional packaging — especially if we want to reach beyond the high-income, sustainability-oriented consumer. This is why we love our newest investment, Algramo. Its vending machines dispense staple products, such as household cleaners and grains, “by the gram” to customers. It’s an elegant solution that incentivizes consumers to reuse a single chip-enabled bottle to fill up their detergent, saving consumers money and helping them accrue value with each use. And with an 82 percent return rate in Santiago, Chile, and integration with big brands such as Unilever, we expect fast adoption as Algramo expands into new markets such as the United States, India and Indonesia.

  2. Convenience:Will the consumer need to take extra steps to embrace a reuse model? Do they need to remember to bring packaging with them? These are barriers to the success of Algramo’s program. Companies such as CupClub, RECUP and Muuse, all winners in the NextGen Cup Challenge, help take the onus off the individual by allowing consumers to get a reusable cup at the point of retail and drop it off at convenient drop spots. 

  3. Ease of integration: Loop has built a system that handles all of the logistics for the brands via online ordering and delivery. For these models to evolve into retail at scale, they will need to work with existing point of sale systems, reward programs and store set-ups.  

  4. Measurable impact: Some reuse and return models that are compared to the old “milkman model” produce new impacts from cleaning, transporting and potentially using more material to create durable packaging. Companies will need to prove that these new impacts are minimal when compared to the impact of single-use packaging. Glass refill models such as Conscious Container have clear data on the model showing that a refillable 12-ounce glass bottle has a 95 percent lower carbon footprint than a single-use 12-ounce glass bottle. 

  5. Health and safety standards: Brands and retailers need to pass strict health and safety standards to minimize risks. There is a huge opportunity for local governments to advance this work by clarifying regulations around liability for safety of reusable containers.

What’s next? We are on the cusp of a reuse revolution and expect to see more big innovations related to other applications, such as shopping bags and food packaging.  

Reuse will be a growing part of the plastic solution portfolio used by brands and retailers. It’s certainly not going to solve the whole plastic waste challenge, but as more of these models come to market, we are excited to see new solutions that collectively build reuse back into our cultural and behavioral norms.

Author: Continue reading Key ingredients for scaling circular reuse business models

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Here’s what could go wrong with the circular economy — and how to keep it on track

The circular economy — one that breaks the link between economic growth and use of limited resources and also cuts waste from the system — is on the minds of corporate sustainability professionals, governments and researchers. We are all excited about its potential to increase economic prosperity, derive more value from products and reduce emissions.

But in the rush to realize the promise of a circular economy, we need to think through the possibility of unintended consequences. Will the jobs generated by circular innovations be better jobs? Who will get them? Circularity could reduce material extraction and waste through reuse — but at the cost of what other resources? Will circularity reduce consumption, or just maximize use of existing products?

The circular economy is not a silver bullet for employment, sustainability and prosperity. Companies and governments carefully must measure the anticipated and actual impact of these actions and ensure they take us in the right direction — not into a circular but even less sustainable future. Here are three ways to do just that.

1. Evaluate employment impact

Circularity fundamentally could change the employment landscape, similar to the disruption technology has brought.
Research indicates that the circular economy will provide new jobs, with the recycling industry alone already employing more than 1.5 million people worldwide. A 2015 report by WRAP and the Green Alliance (PDF) looking at the role of the circular economy in revving up a lackluster United Kingdom jobs market estimated that 500,000 new jobs would be created there alone by 2030. A study by Cambridge Econometrics, Trinomics and ICF (PDF) concluded that shifting from virgin extraction to repair in the European Union would add 700,000 jobs, mainly in central and eastern Europe.

However, these employment changes come at a cost. For example, in a world that relies less on virgin material extraction, fewer mining jobs will exist. According to the 2018 ILO report (PDF), while 18 million new green jobs are projected to be created by 2030, extracting and refining petroleum will lose 1 million.

Measuring impact is a first step to addressing potential repercussions for those who lose from the transition. But as much as quantification is a challenge in environmental topics, in social issues it is even more complex and often subjective. For example, the jobs created by the circular economy may be different from existing jobs in scope and location. Perhaps repair will create more creatively fulfilling roles than mass production, but in an economy that values refurbishment over mass production, work may move closer to the consumer, potentially causing dislocation in regions that can least afford the job losses.

Such topics are hard if not impossible to capture in a single metric, but that shouldn’t keep companies and governments from assessing the consequences of these actions.

2. Compare waste reduction against the resource impact of recycling

Zero waste and 100 percent circularity have become popular goals — but achieving them can be surprisingly resource-intensive and could lead to actions that compromise overall sustainability.

For example, buying a plastic or steel can of coffee beans may seem a better environmental choice than composite-material coffee bags because the cans, unlike the bags, can be recycled. But plastic cans take more than 5 megajoules of energy per 11.5 oz. volume to produce; steel, more than 4; but the bag, a little over 1.

In fact, purchasing products based only on what is recyclable is a misguided way to make buying decisions. Recycling itself requires resources: paper must be reduced to pulp and reformulated with water, chemicals and energy. Metals are shredded or melted, requiring energy, before being reconstituted.

Recycling is only worthwhile from a resource perspective if the resources required for recovery and recycling are less than those required for extraction and disposal. Some have even suggested that the circular economy could result in resource depletion if not carefully implemented. Perhaps zero waste should not be society’s ultimate aim. We need more research and impact-based metrics to understand the total effect of circularity on companies’, countries’ and even citizens’ sustainability efforts and identify the optimum recycling rate for each material.

3. Don’t forget soaring levels of consumption

One often-touted benefit of circularity is that it will reduce consumption of brand-new products. Since we published the paper “The Elephant in the Boardroom,” companies are more willing to discuss the challenge of endless growth in consumption, but we still have a long way to go. Circular economy can hinder as well as help the situation.

Lower consumption will be realized only if we value longevity and reuse over the purchase of virgin material-based goods. That message has not yet been fully adopted by businesses, even those that are starting to understand the appeal of circular economy. A prominent fast fashion apparel company carries in many U.S. stores two prominent messages, often on adjacent boards. One reminds us to “rewear, reuse and recycle” — but right next to it is an equally prominent sign that reads, “We have new stuff coming in every day, so why don’t you?”

Consumers still love to buy new clothes. Worldwide, the apparel and footwear market is projected to grow about 5 percent yearly through 2030, resulting in over 100 million tons of production. At least in richer nations, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where consumers clean out their closets, donate their clothes to thrift stores and then feel entitled to restock.

The phenomenon calls to mind the Jevons paradox: increasing efficiency doesn’t lead to less consumption — it leads to more. In this case, the consumer feels good about resource savings in one area (contributing to the circular economy by donating old clothes), allowing them to rationalize using more resources in another (restocking the closet with new purchases).

Companies must measure their impact on resources and set science-based targets that bound corporate actions within the confines of the planet’s resources. This will lead to new business models for growth and the associated change in consumer thinking that is not predicated on selling more new stuff.

Circularity can be an effective way to achieve the transformation we need to make sustainable use of the planet’s resources. But pursuing circularity as an end in itself gives us a false sense of security and could even drive worse outcomes. To avoid this, we need metrics that keep us focused on the impacts we seek, together with targets that ensure we stay within the safe operating space and don’t venture beyond the ability of the planet to support society.

Businesses and governments alike must implement circularity with deliberation and caution in order to optimize its impact and help society reap the benefits.

Author: Continue reading Here’s what could go wrong with the circular economy — and how to keep it on track