Enlightened self-interest as a tool in sustainability leadership

Over the last couple weeks I have added several articles on different ways businesses are working on climate change. The running theme is you can’t go it alone.

Consider the partnership of Proctor and Gamble teaming up with NGO TerraCycle to reduce waste “by creating the Ocean Plastic Bottle for P&G’s line of Fairy dish detergent. It is the first commercially available consumer-grade bottle made entirely from recycled (90 percent) and marine (10 percent) plastic. Organic Valley entered into a “”first-of-its-kind” community solar partnership in collaboration with the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), a joint action agency representing 15 electricity providers from Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.” Walmart continues to be a benchmark in sustainability by “cultivating enlightened self-interest”.  What does that mean? “Simply replacing outdated computers and installing energy-efficient light bulbs can save companies up to $1 billion, and some of the world’s biggest brands found that sustainable investments give them an edge in both product innovation and brand image.”

This attitude, I think, exemplifies the need to reduce the bottom line while protecting the resources that one depends on while remaining relevant in the field. The below article highlights a handful of examples from around the sector that can be used to illustrate how to remain at the top of your field without sacrifice. Cross-sector collaboration, partnerships, re-framing the question to take the heat out of it, and listening. You learn a lot by listening.

“When organizations come together and aggregate their buying power, they move markets,” said Elaine Hsieh, VERGE program director with GreenBiz, during the panel discussion. “Money talks.””

In this season of generosity towards our family and friends, being generous to the Earth should be included on our list. We can show our gratitude for what we have received by improving our relationship with the resources that provide us with all we have.

Tips for staying nimble as sustainability leaders

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” This adage rings particularly true in the impact sector, where we know that the business of change is not easy. It requires us to constantly stretch ourselves in order to drive sustainability forward.

Technology is advancing rapidly, and the growing costs of climate change make quick action increasingly imperative. Amidst rapid change and with the health of our communities and planet at stake, how do we stay nimble as sustainability leaders? How do we sharpen ourselves in order to be successful in our work? A recent panel discussion held at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo — Staying Nimble in Your Sustainability Career — sheds light on some key influences.

Cross-sector collaboration: As organizations work to meet aggressive goals and science-based targets, acting together yields stronger results than acting alone. The rate of collaboration is increasing between local governments, nonprofits and private companies.

For example, in renewable energy, partnerships such as the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance leverage the expertise of nonprofits such as the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund along with the buying power of companies such as Procter & Gamble, Marriott and REI. “When organizations come together and aggregate their buying power, they move markets,” said Elaine Hsieh, VERGE program director with GreenBiz, during the panel discussion. “Money talks.”

“Know your audience. Figure out what matters to them and then keep it simple.”

Resilience: Cities and businesses see both financial risks from climate-related events and economic growth opportunities from preparing against those risks.

The city of Boston’s Climate-Ready Boston plan notes that by 2070, over 11,000 buildings and 85,000 people may be exposed to extreme flooding each year, resulting in annualized losses of $1.39 billion. To combat those risks, Boston creates projects that yield multiple benefits, such as flood barriers that also provide open recreational space or developable land.

Similarly in North Carolina, public-private collaborative Envision Charlotte has enabled Charlotte businesses to save $26 million in energy costs and reduce 57,000 tons of GHG emissions by leveraging smart data, the behavioral expertise of Duke Energy and analytics insights from University of North Carolina Charlotte — with support of a Department of Energy grant.

Re-framing the question: Corporate responsibility historically has been measured by efforts to reduce negative environmental impacts such as carbon emissions and waste. However, today leading organizations are building their strategy around a different model. “It’s no longer about ‘How do we do less bad?'” said Kirk Myers, senior sustainability manager for REI. “The question is now, ‘What should be better in the world as REI grows and thrives?'”

With this new compass, REI’s sustainability program goes beyond just addressing the impacts of its operational footprint and it also addresses creating outdoor access for everyone, through efforts such as advocating for public lands.

So, in today’s context, how do we prepare ourselves as professionals to be successful in this work? These foundational strategies can propel us forward:

Partnerships: As change agents, our success is driven by our ability to bring people together. “It’s about considering, ‘What’s beyond just me?'” Hsieh said. “In order to create new ways of doing things that truly change the game, we have to work with others and learn how we’re interconnected with others inside and outside of the organization.” Driving change means identifying how a multi-disciplinary network of players are connected and creating successful partnerships where incentives are aligned and everyone wins.

Storytelling: Because sustainability work is built on systems thinking and complex concepts, our ability to deliver a clear message is critical. Curt Radkin, senior vice president and sustainability strategist for Wells Fargo, said: “Know your audience. Figure out what matters to them and then keep it simple. Frame the concepts in a way that will be meaningful to them, knowing that it will be different for different players in the organization and you have to be ready to adapt.”

Listening: Lastly, never underestimate the power of listening. Often influence is won not by a practiced pitch but by giving others the stage. Said Myers: “In working with executives, ask them, ‘What does sustainability mean to you personally?’ Starting a conversation this way can be somewhat surprising and unexpected, but it helps people reground in the bigger mission.” In inviting others to share in this way, you’ll learn what they really believe in. And in turn, they’ll believe in you, too.

Whether you’re designing one green building, piloting a new technology or revamping a large-scale global supply chain, these timeless strategies apply. Through partnerships, effective storytelling and listening, we can create the space and opportunities to be nimble in our work and to drive the change we want to see in the world.

TerraCycle, P&G partner in a love-hate relationship with trash

Tom Szaky, the Hungarian-born CEO and founder of TerraCycle, dreams of chewing gum, cigarette butts and ocean plastic. His Trenton, New Jersey-based company aims to accelerate the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, a breakthrough in materials science, energy storage and other technologies, by cleaning up after heaps of waste and inventing inputs for items spurned by ordinary recyclers.

This year, TerraCycle, with Procter & Gamble, reached a major recycling milestone by creating the Ocean Plastic Bottle for P&G’s line of Fairy dish detergent. It is the first commercially available consumer-grade bottle made entirely from recycled (90 percent) and marine (10 percent) plastic.

Starting in 2018, P&G will sell 320,000 of these bottles, with plans to extend the initiative to Dawn, Yes, Dreft and Joy brands. The effort evolved from the first shampoo bottle made from 25 percent recycled beach plastic, an iteration of the Head & Shoulders bottle engineered by TerraCycle, P&G and French recycling company Suez.

For this effort, the United Nations will present TerraCycle an award during COP 23 climate talks in Germany this month.

Through 15 years of growth, TerraCycle has tried to solve the existential question of why trash exists. Here are some of Szaky’s key takeaways about scaling the crusade against waste by proving its economic viability.

Keep it simple

The company got its start in 2002, when Szaky, then a student at Princeton, began selling fertilizer, composted from the university’s cafeteria, to Home Depot and Walmart. Now, it partners with major brands such as L’Oreal, Huggies, Kleenex and Bausch + Lomb to recycle over 100 bottom-of-the-barrel consumer waste streams. This year, for example, TerraCycle helped Target collect 80,000 car seats, totaling more than a million pounds of secondary material.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth and operate in 21 countries around the world, and we basically ask three questions that are our three business units,” said Szaky. “The first question is what we’re most known for: Is your product or your package recyclable?”

If the answer is no, TerraCycle’s 10-person R&D team figures out how to physically collect and recycle something. A company pays monthly for TerraCycle’s zero-waste box to be set up in its stores or factories, and employees or consumers can drop their used goods, such as chewing gum (which can be turned into a polymer for frisbees), in it for no extra cost. Depending on the type of waste collected, boxes can run up to $300 to $400. No-cost recycling programs are also available for municipalities.

“The second question we ask is how we can we help make that object from recycled material,” said Szaky, in order to provide inputs to integrate recycled materials back into consumer products.

“We now run the world’s largest supply chain for ocean plastic, and we collect ocean plastic from all over the world,” he said. “And [we’ll] integrate that into, for example, the Head and Shoulders shampoo bottle at 25 percent, and most recently, the largest dish soap range in Europe called Sari, at 10 percent.”

“At the core of TerraCycle’s philosophy is to eliminate the concept of ‘disposability’ altogether.”

The third question at the core of TerraCycle’s philosophy is how to eliminate the concept of “disposability” altogether. As a company that works with multinational corporations, does this aim lead to massive complexity within TerraCycle’s operations? Not necessarily.

“To become manageable, every one of these platforms revolves around three things,” said Szaky. “We collect the waste or the material; we process them, whether it’s cleaning or recycling. Third, we have to figure out the business model to make all of these things work. And it’s always those same three questions, whether you’re recycling dirty diapers, cigarette butts or ocean plastic.”

Think outside the zero-waste box

Innovation is inevitable in the recycling industry, where, said Szaky, “the cards are stacked against you.”

Recyclers are going bankrupt due to factors such as high oil prices and a recent ban from China, a major global recycling hub, on imports of waste. For TerraCycle, collecting plastic from oceans, rivers, lakes and beaches in beach cleanups further drive up costs.

And yet, the company employs 150 people worldwide; its profits nearly doubled to $1.4 million in 2016 compared to 2015. It brought in $19.3 million in revenue in 2016 and is estimated to bring in over $20 million in 2017, mostly from corporate and municipal partners. TerraCycle is also working on a platform to help brands switch from disposable packaging to durable alternatives, launching in 2019. Suez recently acquired 30 percent of TerraCycle’s activities in Europe.

“Innovation is inevitable in the recycling industry, where, said Szaky, ‘The cards are stacked against you.'”

“We have to be very creative in getting an organization to be willing to spend a higher price on difficult-to-use material,” he said, despite having a tried-and-true business model. In order to raise $25 million to buy more recycling companies, TerraCycle is turning to a Regulation A securities sale. This allows people that don’t fall into a high earnings bracket to buy a “crowdfunded” stake in the company.

“We think that there’s a really good opportunity, especially now where politics is really helping the environmental movement where private organizations and individuals are seeing that they have to do something [to combat waste] and we’re seeing that echo in a very big way,” said Szaky.

TerraCycle is also expanding its reach by working with technology. In October, TerraCycle announced a partnership with Rubicon Global, a cloud-based technology company that pairs organizations with independent, local haulers to find ways to divert their waste from the landfill. Together, they will be able to provide a wider spectrum of solutions to sustainably manage waste streams, including common recyclables such as mixed paper and cardboard to “more extreme” examples such as candy wrappers, batteries and used cigarettes.

The partnership with Rubicon expands upon TerraCycle’s capabilities to connect secondary materials with end uses and bring in more U.S. clients.

You are a solution, not the solution

Although waste is TerraCycle’s treasure, Szaky called the current state of waste production and management nothing less than “a crisis” and “a catastrophic challenge.”

“Nothing that anyone in the ocean plastics space is doing, including TerraCycle, is the answer in the end,” he said. “The real answer is we have to shut off the stuff going to the ocean and it’s difficult because what’s happening is a macro trend of lightweight packaging, making packaging thinner and lighter.”

This is good for company’s bottom lines because it means cheaper and leaner material use.

“But as you increase lightweight packaging, it becomes less recyclable and more likely to end up in the aquatic system,” he said, pointing out that a quarter of the world’s plastic ends up in the ocean.

Even the Fairy ocean plastic bottle, crafted to bring attention to the crisis of marine plastic, points a finger at the capability of companies with lots of resources to create solutions for a problem they helped create. Efforts by corporations and nonprofits to study how plastic winds up in the ocean are growing, such as the Trash Free Seas Alliance, an effort by Dow, Coca-Cola and the Ocean Conservancy to study how waste washes into the oceans.

Although there is no streamlined solution to definitively scrub the seas, said Szaky, he’s thrilled that TerraCycle is shining a spotlight on the complications of industrialization.


How Mars and Walmart illustrate the future of sustainability

Sustainability carries a lot of buzz these days, whether you’re talking about choices in food, business plans or personal lifestyles. But when Mars Inc. uncovered a troubling flaw in its supply chain, sustainability became an imperative for the brand.

In September, the global food manufacturer overhauled its business operations, vowing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve employee working conditions. CEO Grant F. Reid said he anticipates a long, bright future for his company, but only if it puts sustainability at the core of its business ethos.

“The only way that will happen is if we do things differently to ensure that the planet is healthy and all people in our extended supply chains have the opportunity to thrive,” he said.

As Reid and other CEOs are learning, sustainability isn’t just a “nice-to-have,” especially from a consumer perspective. A recent study indicates that one-third of consumers prefer to buy from brands with reputations for sustainability, so it no longer matters whether your business deals directly with environmental issues: Business leaders must use enlightened self-interest to educate themselves and their teams on sustainability’s benefits in order to implement and scale environmentally sound initiatives.

Cultivating enlightened self-interest

What, exactly, is enlightened self-interest? To me, it’s where your professional and personal goals intersect. Before you successfully can incorporate sustainability into your organization, you need to invest in the concept emotionally. I’m not here to make the virtuous case for sustainability. Moves toward eco-friendly manufacturing and socially conscious business management are ethical; it’s true. But they also help nurture a healthy bottom line.

“Before you successfully can incorporate sustainability into your organization, you need to invest in the concept emotionally.”

Simply replacing outdated computers and installing energy-efficient light bulbs can save companies up to $1 billion, and some of the world’s biggest brands found that sustainable investments give them an edge in both product innovation and brand image. Then there are the tax benefits and sustainability tax incentives, such as income tax credits and property tax abatements, which the government offers companies in order to get them engaged in such initiatives.

Just as important are customers becoming more empowered and eco-conscious. Millennials, especially, do incessant research to assure the products they buy are produced ethically and align with their values. A Nielsen study noted that 55 percent of millennials surveyed say they’d pay more for products sold by socially responsible companies.

Enlightened self-interest can create positive ripples throughout your supply chain. When multiple retailers, manufacturers and suppliers depend on you for customer engagement and distribution, you wield considerable influence that can be used for the greater good.

Consider Walmart, a top-tier global brand that works with 150,000 suppliers. When Walmart set its sights on adopting more sustainable practices, it insisted that suppliers begin using 100-percent recyclable packaging materials and more efficient packaging methods that would reduce the fuel needed to transport products. More efficient packaging also meant more products with which to stock Walmart’s shelves and create more profit opportunities — that’s enlightened self-interest in action.

“Profits and ethics are not at odds — at least, they don’t have to be.”

The shift toward environmentally sound policies heartened customers, inspired pride in employees and reduced the waste produced by Walmart and its affiliates. It also won over skeptics, such as Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. Gossard is a well-known environmentalist who didn’t believe me when I told him Walmart was insisting that all CDs sold in its stores be packaged in cornstarch-based wrapping instead of plastic. But he called me one day after hearing that record companies were, in fact, making the shift, and he was delighted to acknowledge Walmart’s new green CD policy.

Profits and ethics are not at odds — at least, they don’t have to be. When you cultivate a mindset of enlightened self-interest, you can help your company thrive while also helping people. And isn’t that the holy grail?

The ultimate win-win

I enjoy sharing the Walmart story because it’s a powerful example of how enlightened self-interest drives change. But it also illustrates another important point, which is that to really move the needle, sustainability must be in a company’s DNA.

Had Walmart merely paid lip service to sustainability or continued to work with suppliers that eschewed eco-friendly practices, it wouldn’t have made much of an impact and might have cost the retailer credibility with environmentally conscious consumers. Instead, it made sustainability a core policy and flourished because of it.

It’s not the only company benefiting from a sustainability-driven philosophy. Disney, one of the most beloved brands on the planet, has been eco- and conservation-conscious since its founding. It operates a state-of-the-art energy management system that saves the brand considerably on energy usage across its many attractions and properties.

Coca-Cola also has a keen interest in environmental operations. As a company that relies on water to produce its marquee products, Coca-Cola invests heavily in water conservation and efficiency, both in its factories and in parts of the world that serve as key water sources — an approach that helps Coca-Cola and is good for the environment. The company also has saved $90 billion by improving its bottle designs and decreasing packaging waste.

As these global giants prove, enlightened self-interest is a win-win. By serving as sustainability stewards, businesses can win customers, reduce costs and ensure the long-term health of their environments — for their businesses and their communities.

What midsize firms can learn from Organic Valley’s community solar deal

In the scheme of things, the power purchase agreement disclosed last month by dairy cooperative Organic Valley isn’t very big — slightly less than 13 megawatts of solar in phase one of the project. That’s exactly why it’s a noteworthy sign of progress for the corporate clean power procurement movement.

Under the deal announced in late October, the organization has entered into what it describes as a “first-of-its-kind” community solar partnership in collaboration with the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), a joint action agency representing 15 electricity providers from Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.

“These towns wanted to increase their mix, as did we,” said George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, in a conversation with GreenBiz. “It’s pretty neat to have this collective make this pledge. We’ve had to learn how to get outside the normal route of procurement to get this done.”

The 25-year-long arrangement will allow UMMEG to start sourcing clean renewable power from multiple solar projects as soon as next year, displacing about 12 percent of its existing generating sources, predominantly coal-fired power plants. Organic Valley, which represents 2,000 farmers in 36 cities, won’t be able to use all the power directly — although it will be able to source electricity from a 2-MW installation planned near its site in Cashton, Wisconsin. There’s also potential for 17 more MWs of construction after the initial phase.

The co-op will buy all the renewable energy credits associated with the sites, all of which will adopt pollinator-friendly designs. The meadows underneath them will include native plants and grasses — the equivalent of 30,000 families creating a six-foot-by-12-foot garden. The RECs will enable Organic Valley to cover all electricity generated by its headquarters, processing and distribution sites with renewable power by the end of 2019, estimated Jonathan Reinbold, head of sustainability for the coop.

“Our hope is that this partnership to install community-scale solar will be replicated by municipal utilities around the country and propel more rural communities toward economic stability and energy independence,” Reinbold said.

Here’s the back story

This is not Organic Valley’s first foray into renewable energy. The company previously teamed up with UMMEG — and Gundersen Health Systems in La Crosse, Wisconsin — to help create a two-turbine, community-supported wind farm on the Cashton Greens next to Organic Valley’s campus there. Each company invested $5 million in the 5-MW facility, taking advantage of tax incentives and creating a limited liability corporation to own and operate the project. Organic Valley, which generated about $1.1 billion in revenue in 2016, also has invested in several small solar installations (about 200 kilowatts in capacity) on roofs of some of its corporate buildings, and it has experimented with some geothermal and solar thermal systems. It has experimented with on-farm biodiesel initiatives.

The expectation was that those investments — a total of $6 million over the past six years — would help the co-op make a “100 percent renewable” claim but the organization’s growth over the past several years made that more difficult, Reinbold said. In 2014, Organic Valley managed to cover about 81 percent of its power needs with renewable wind and solar energy; by the end of 2016, the amount was closer to 50 percent, he estimated.

When it began considering next steps that would help it work toward a carbon neutral future, the co-op didn’t set out in search of a community solar project. It actually was exploring a virtual PPA, but dropped that idea because the pricing and terms would have required review by the public service commission, traditionally hostile to renewables investments.The community solar arrangement with UMMEG didn’t require a special review, and it built on an existing relationship — the municipal group buys all of the wind-generated power from the Cashton Greens project. What’s more, “this had the opportunity to be more impactful” within the region because it enables residential customers and other businesses to source clean power, Reinbold said. Aside from Wisconsin, some projects may be in Minnesota, although the final decisions haven’t been made.

The deal was brokered by OneEnergy Renewables, which focuses on helping develop commercial and institutional projects that range from 2 to 50 MWs in capacity. For example, OneEnergy was behind a certified pollinator-friendly project in Maryland that supplies the Verizon Center and the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was involved with projects at General Electric and Ithaca College.

OneEnergy’s participation was instrumental in winning over the Organic Valley executive team responsible for sustainability initiatives, Reinbold said, estimating that the negotiations took about 13 months from start to finish. “That was one of the biggest barriers: demonstrating that this was real,” he said.

Bill Eddie, CEO and co-founder of OneEnergy, said the cooperation between Organic Valley and UMMEG was necessary for the deal to happen — and it’s a dynamic he expects to play out again in the future as more midsize companies seek creative ways to invest in clean power.

“Without these two working together, there wouldn’t be these projects,” he said. “What we’re seeing now is a lot more engagement by utilities with their customers.”

Watch this space

Community solar programs are seen as one emerging way for organizations with more modest electricity needs than many of the mammoth companies investing in PPAs to help add renewable, clean power to their operations — either virtually or directly. Initiatives aimed as scaling this mechanism are becoming more common.

Earlier this week, for example, renewables developer ENGIE announced a partnership with Clean Energy Collective (CEC) meant to hasten the spread of this option in the Northeast United States. The two are behind a community solar plan in Massachusetts that includes a portfolio of 17 installations; indeed, they are pursuing dozens of projects across five states. ENGIE is the fourth largest, non-residential electricity provider in the United States with a presence in 14 markets.

“Our relationship with ENGIE, coupled with our unmatched ability to deliver localized, market-specific community solar solutions on a national scale, makes the possibilities for community solar nearly limitless,” said CEC founder and CEO Paul Spencer.

You should also keep an eye out for new services from LevelTen Energy, an almost-two-year-old venture fronted by CEO Bryce Smith, co-founder of OneEnergy.

The startup is working on procurement options that will allow multiple corporate buyers to buy into a portfolio of new projects — a purchasing mechanism he likens to a mutual fund and that helps spread the risk. “If you look at the PPA process to date, there are issues. For starters, 99 percent of corporate buyers are shut out. … It’s extremely hard to buy into a large or economical project,” Smith said.

LevelTen disclosed $6.8 million of Series A financing in early October to gets its platform off the ground. “LevelTen has created the transaction platform of record for this immense, emerging industry,” said Tim Woodward, managing director of Prelude Ventures, one of the participating investors. “In 2012, only 1 percent of the electricity from new wind projects was sold to corporate customers. Fast forward to 2016, and this number increases to 55 percent. LevelTen brings transparency, efficiency and liquidity to a market previously dominated by cumbersome bilateral transactions.”

This story was updated Nov. 2 to clarify that Organic Valley is not a Certified B Corp.

Packaging’s role in Walmart’s Project Gigaton

Earlier this year, around Earth Day, Walmart announced an ambitious plan to work with its supply chain to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by one gigaton. I decided to run the numbers to see what role source reduction, specifically in Walmart’s packaging, could play.

First, what’s a gigaton? A gigaton is 1 billion tons or 1 billion times 2,000 pounds, which equals 2 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases, or GHGs. That represents 20 times more pounds of greenhouse gases than there are stars in the Milky Way.

This is a serious amount of GHG reduction. Because of the scale of this goal, no one product or company can get Walmart to its goal. It will take the hard work of many companies and a multitude of products and operations to achieve.

As a thought experiment, I wondered how changes in packaging could contribute to this goal. We’ve all seen changes in packaging in past decades, especially when it comes to source reduction and use of lighter materials. One example of this shift is pasta sauce. We’re beginning to see a move to lighter-weight glass jars and to PET plastic containers. And while not common in pasta sauce, we’re seeing more sauces in flexible pouches.

Running the numbers

So, how could pasta sauce packaging contribute to Walmart’s goal? First, we need to know how much pasta sauce is sold. According to Statista, 718 million units of pasta sauce are sold in the U.S. each year. The dominant size is 24 ounces, plus or minus an ounce. Yes, there are big 64- and 48-oz jars and some smaller 12- and 15-oz packages, but 24 ounces and glass is the current consumer choice.

According to Andrew Wolf, an analyst at Loop Capital, Walmart has a 21.5 percent market share in grocery, thus we’ll assume it sells 21.5 percent of the pasta sauce in the United States. By weighing a few jars and pouches, plus checking historical weights from ULS Packaging Efficiency Reports from 2007 and 2016, we estimate that a 24-ounce package weighs:

  • Glass: 320 grams
  • PET plastic: 38.6 grams
  • Steel: 80.3 grams
  • Flexible pouch = 15.8 grams (two 7.9 gram 12 oz. pouches)

Next, we need to know the GHG emissions for the various materials. For this, we look to the source reduction values from U.S. EPA Documentation of Greenhouse Gas Emission and Energy Factors Used in the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) — Containers, Packaging, and Non-Durable Good Materials Chapters February 2016 (PDF). Essentially, this resource quantifies how much GHG emissions would be saved if a given material wasn’t produced.

  • Glass: 0.60 MT CO2e/ton of material
  • PET plastic = 2.24 MT
  • Steel = 3.67 MT
  • Flexible Pouch = 1.788  MT(assumes the pouch is a mix of LDPE, PP & PET)

Calculations are provided in the table below. What do they mean? Although steel has a small and shrinking portion of this market and is very recyclable, it doesn’t make sense to switch back. Steel has the highest GHG footprint.

Next, we can see that continuing the transition from glass to PET will more than double the GHG savings for pasta sauce packaging. If we assume all packaging is glass today and we move to PET, it would reduce almost 20,000 tons CO2e every year just at Walmart. If we look at the whole U.S. market it would result in more than 92,000 tons of CO2 being avoided every year.

Finally, our calculations show that moving from glass to flexible pouches would result in a massive 143,000 tons (167,511 – 24,623 = 142,888) reduction. Even though glass emits a lower amount of CO2 on a per-ton basis, the amount of material (or mass) required per unit of glass packaging creates a much larger overall CO2 footprint.

Now, these results make huge assumptions, such as a 100 percent shift from glass to PET or pouches. But we have seen many products shift from steel and glass to plastics and flexibles. While baby boomers are comfortable with traditional packages, millennials are quick to pick up a pouch or a carton if it will help them with convenience.After just seven years, the switch from glass to pouches would save 1 million tons of CO2. It might seem like one little step forward in Walmart’s Project Gigaton. But consider that this is just one package.

What about all those other packages that can be optimized? Source reduction of packaging can play a key role in getting Walmart to its gigaton goal.

Standing at the crossroads of the climate crisis

The following is an edited excerpt from “The Happy Hero” by Solitaire Townsend (Unbound, Autumn 2017).

A crisis always starts with some small shifts in “normal.” A tiny ember burns, the sky fills with cloud, a few pebbles fall. For individuals, a crisis might start when damaging behaviors (like heavy drinking) that have slowly built up suddenly start causing real and visible problems.

On a more global scale, with something like climate change, we can track those little pebbles falling from a long way off. We’ve been burning up carbon for centuries but it’s taken a lot of pebbles and a few rocks to fall before we’ve started to notice anything.

Crisis grows

One of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is his definition of insanity, which he says is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As individuals or societies head towards a defining crisis point, which I call the crossroads, things can look a little crazy. More and more people become aware of the crisis, talk about it, argue about it and worry and worry and worry. But they don’t do much differently. This is a familiar stage in crisis theory, especially for individuals. And the signs of intensifying crisis are easy to spot:

  • Growing anxiety: people begin feeling fretful and ineffectual; individuals and
    whole governments seem chaotic and uncoordinated. Everyone feels “at sea” and “lost.”
  • More frustration: we keep trying the same old things and feel increasingly irritated when they don’t work.
  • Anger: some people get defensive and blame others or deny the problem.

Sound familiar? These are the symptoms of any crisis, be it personal or climatic.


Human beings have always known that decision moments are important and that one decision can take you to a radically different destination. That’s why crossroads have a special status in our literature and mythology. Individuals can stand at psychological crossroads for a few moments or can struggle to decide their next steps for years. And there is always a mindset shift before people take a step beyond their crossroads. We are either able to move past our crisis mentally, reset our attitudes and improve our lives, or we succumb to it, lacking the will for change.

To those watching, it may seem obvious what we need to do, but until we’ve seen our own path out, they can’t help us. Happy heroism is the mindset that serves us best when we face a crisis. It accepts the possibility of a better future and puts us in service to that purpose. Attain that mindset and the right actions will follow. As you read through this book, that mindset will slowly develop, until you can pass any crisis you meet.

“Human beings have always known that decision moments are important and that one decision can take you to a radically different destination.”

And the same principles apply to the crisis our entire society faces. Right now, we’re shuffling closer to a big crossroads in terms of climate change. We’re not quite there yet because we’re not fully exhibiting the signs of a society at the very threshold of change, but we’re getting very close. Psychologists have learned how to spot a patient who is ready to change, and their definitions are helpful for any crisis management. We’ll know our collective feet are unambiguously standing at the crossroads when we all feel:

  • Openness: when we have maximum awareness and interest in the crisis, looking for lots of ideas, being open and suggestible to both good (and bad) advice.
  • Energy: when we put all our focus on emergency methods or creative, novel solutions to the problem, trying everything and agreeing on nothing.

Some might argue that we’ve already hit this point in our climate crisis, but I suspect there’s a little more to come (or we need to stand at the crossroads a little longer to fully experience it). Being fully there will feel like a bizarre mixture of panic and calm, frenzy and reflection, everywhere in the world. There are rules for making the right choice, whether as one person or an entire civilization. Both our collective history and individual psychology agree that how you think will dictate what you do. And hard experience shows that at a crossroads there are only three directions to choose.

Be bad

Being bad is the worst and most foolish path. It means pretending there isn’t a crossroads, or saying we’re doomed to walk down only one pathway. In the context of climate change, the bad mindset right now is either denial or doom. They might sound different, but they are both trying to drive us down the same terrible route. And it’s a path with no rewards; all you are left with is a last-ditch fight to survive a certain disaster. This path should have a big “Beware: Dead End Ahead” sign hanging beside it.

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

No seeds were lost but the ability of the rock vault to provide failsafe protection against all disasters is now threatened by climate change

By Damian Carrington

The Svalbard ‘doomsday’ seed vault was built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars and natural disasters. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”.

But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

“A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C.

But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

The vault’s managers are now waiting to see if the extreme heat of this winter was a one-off or will be repeated or even exceeded as climate change heats the planet. The end of 2016 saw average temperatures over 7C above normal on Spitsbergen, pushing the permafrost above melting point.

“The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute.

“The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

The vault managers are now taking precautions, including major work to waterproof the 100m-long tunnel into the mountain and digging trenches into the mountainside to channel meltwater and rain away. They have also removed electrical equipment from the tunnel that produced some heat and installed pumps in the vault itself in case of a future flood.

Aschim said there was no option but to find solutions to ensure the enduring safety of the vault: “We have to find solutions. It is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously. We are doing this for the world.”

“This is supposed to last for eternity,” said Åsmund Asdal at the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre, which operates the seed vault.

Soylent Green as a Warning

Soylent Green is a 1973 film starring Charlton Heston and takes place in 2022, which is a dystopian nightmare. Greenhouse gasses have skyrocketed causing the environment to be unbearable – hot, humid, polluted – miserable all the time. Poverty and overpopulation has people starving piled up sleeping in doorways and the streets.

The lack of arable land has led to the only source of food being a high energy processed ocean plankton ration called Soylent Green produced by the Soylent Corporation. Now that the oceans are dying, the one last source of plankton based nutrition is threatened. The long and short of it is that the oceans are indeed dying threatening the source of Soylent Green such that – spoiler alert! – it will instead will be made of humans, the closest and most available protein source. What a great ending that was! “Soylent Green is people!” screams Heston.

At 90 degrees in mid-May in 2017, 2022 doesn’t seem so far off, and neither does this scenario no matter how exaggerated it may have seemed in 1966 when Harry Harrison wrote the book the movie is based on called “Make Room! Make Room!”.  Now, 50 years later, we are seeing the all too real life effects of too much CO2 in the atmosphere and the phrase “climate refugees” has already been used regarding China’s spreading deserts.

Like Fury Road where water is the source of conflict, the makers of that film made a point of mentioning if we do nothing, this will be our future. Again, it may seem far flung, but is it really? One’s priorities are put in perspective when one is faced with every day decisions.

I, for one, do not want to fight over water. Imagine it. Standing in line for water in the middle of Manhattan. Which would be ironic with the sea level rise scenarios we have seen. No more washing your dishes. No more long hot showers. No more flushing the toilet. Just thirst and discomfort and the threat of dehydration. What of those with medical conditions? The children and the elderly who can’t go without?

The answer is – don’t let it get that far. Be mindful of your consumption in advance of a dearth of resources and you won’t have a dearth of resources. It’s a simple equation that I think of every time I turn on the faucet or the air conditioning. Do more with less. You’ll barely notice the difference until it’s gone.


Unchecked Consumption is the Elephant in the Boardroom

Unchecked Consumption Is the Elephant in the Boardroom

Many businesses measure growth by selling more stuff to more people, and consumer markets are expected to expand in the decades ahead. The world is on pace to exceed 9.5 billion people by 2050, with far fewer living in poverty than today. Thanks to the rapid industrialization of developing countries including China, Brazil and India, 3 billion peopleare projected to join the global middle class in the next 15 years alone. These demographic shifts represent both a human development victory and an enormous business opportunity for those companies positioning to meet the needs of added consumers.

But there’s a catch: Current consumption patterns, even assuming efficiency improvements, put the global economy on an impossible trajectory. We would use three times as many natural resources by 2050 compared to what we used in 2000 — and what we are using today has already exceeded planetary boundaries.

Yet few, if any, companies are fundamentally rethinking the models by which they meet customer needs. This is the elephant in the boardroom — uncomfortable and unmentioned because the solution requires radical change.

Business leaders at the crossroads

Companies will not thrive if their growth strategies assume infinite supplies of finite resources. Likewise, without progress on global environmental challenges such as climate change, economic and social instability will undermine development around the world. Meanwhile, those businesses that remain stagnant will face more direct threats from the innovative business models that emerge to deliver more value with the resources available.

While some companies are already investing in cleaner and more efficient operations and goods — such as renewable energy and fuel-efficient cars — these steps fall short if core business models remain predicated on selling more things to more people, requiring more and more resources. Even with a significantly more resource-efficient economy, natural resource extraction would still increase by 40 percent by 2050, exacerbating global climate change, undermining sustainable development goals and posing other environmental risks.

That means that to meet consumer demand in 2050 — and grow earnings — companies must embrace changes to their core business models. Companies will need to rethink how they provide basic necessities, comforts and conveniences to billions more customers — without exceeding planetary boundaries.

Emerging models for a resource-strained world

Meeting the demands of a growing global middle class will mean innovating new products and services that deliver shareholder value and satisfy consumers’ needs in different ways.

For example, Gwynnie Bee and Rent the Runway are two clothing services that allow customers to rent rather than buy clothing, which can curb the wastefulness of fast fashion. Textile waste represented nearly 8 percent of all municipal solid waste in the United States in 2013. Scaling sharing models would dramatically reduce environmental damages caused by the apparel industry, which is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of global industrial water pollution.

Address the Elephant in the Boardroom

Moving away from unchecked resource consumption may be the defining sustainability challenge of our time, but even companies with laudable sustainability agendas tend to stop short of addressing today’s unsustainable consumption patterns. A review of 40,000 corporate sustainability reports between 2000 and 2014 found that only about 5 percent of companies mention some type of ecological limits. Of those, most did not provide detail on current or planned changes to address the issue.

Normalizing the conversation will lay the groundwork for pursuing new business models that allow growth within the planet’s limits and generate value in new and exciting ways. A new working paper from WRI The Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption Is Not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets,can guide the conversation within companies and with stakeholders.

The choices that business leaders make today will define the future for generations to come.

New York Skyscrapers Adapt to Climate Change

The reach of the EPA is much longer than one thinks. It’s a comprehensive entity that effects infrastructure existing and new and climate change is having an effect on our planning for the present and the future. Architects building our skyscrapers and other buildings need to use all the information available to create climate change resistant buildings and the EPA provides that. Our basic safety and well being is at stake. “If the government stops collecting the data on flooding vulnerabilities, heat waves, then it’s going to be harder for the design and development communities to incorporate changes in their design,” Wilson said.

New York skyscrapers adapt to climate change

Catherine TRIOMPHE
NY scyscrapers adapt to climate changeIn a New York skyline crowded with skyscrapers the American Copper Buildings going up on the East River owes its difference to climate change (AFP Photo/DON EMMERT)

New York (AFP) – With a skyline crowded with ever-more luxury towers, the construction of another Manhattan skyscraper wouldn’t normally be remarkable.

But the American Copper Buildings going up on the East River — a complex of two towers with 764 apartments, panoramic views and a huge entrance hall with a doorman — is different.

Planned just after deadly Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York in October 2012 — sounding another alarm about the mounting effects of climate change — it was designed with new threats in mind, reflecting how the real estate world is evolving to account for global warming, in contrast to President Donald Trump’s moves to roll back environmental protection.

The huge storm killed more than 40 people in New York, paralyzing the US financial capital for days.

JDS, the company developing the American Copper Buildings, bought the land for the project around the same time.

“The whole thing was a lake, we could have toured the site in a canoe,” said Simon Koster, a principal at the company.

“We knew something like that would happen again,” he added. “So we said, ‘How can we make sure that if we lived here, we will not be facing that scenario?’ So we let the designers loose.”

– Tools to survive –

One of the main innovations was to ensure residents have access to electricity as long as possible in the event of an outage in the city.

Instead of planning an opulent penthouse on the top floor, the architects reserved space for big natural-gas generators designed to keep key equipment functioning if the power fails.

Although the machines are situated “in the most valuable real estate of this building,” Koster said, “it makes all the other units all the more valuable.”

“We are going to have more of these events, it’s just being strategic and smart about how you prepare for them,” architect Gregg Pasquarelli said.

“If we lose power, if you can go up and down in the elevator and your refrigerator works and you have one outlet available that you charge your phone on, you can probably survive in New York for a week,” he added.

Every kitchen has two electrical outlets — one reserved for refrigerators — connected to a back-up circuit fed by the generators. That means smartphones can be charged during a breakdown.

Traditionally relegated to the basement, the heating, ventilation and large electrical equipment have been installed on the first floor instead, more than 20 feet (seven meters) above the street to minimize the risk of flooding.

The main entrance hall is large and austere, with steel pillars and floor tiling designed for outside use.

Wood-paneled walls warm the atmosphere — but the open side panels can dry easily with no damage in the event of flooding.

The building’s cheapest studios will be available for rent starting from $3,000 a month, and include the luxury perks of access to a swimming pool and huge terrace with views of the Empire State Building in addition to the more prosaic bonus of flood resistance.

– Embracing resilience –

New York is embracing resilient architecture more than most cities in the country because its exorbitantly priced real estate drives up the financial stakes, says Alex Wilson, president of the Vermont-based Resilient Design Institute, which specializes in such issues.

Besides electricity, architects are also coming up with ways of providing drinking water — with accessible faucets for everyone now obligatory on lower floors — as well as maintaining reasonable temperatures.

In the event of a summer power outage, “a lot of condominiums are heavily glazed and would become inhabitable,” Wilson said.

The city is identifying the most vulnerable existing buildings for adaptation.

However, the obstacles for reconstructing older structures are greater than integrating flood resistance during the construction of new projects such as the Copper Buildings — and so are the costs — Wilson said.

Politics may also get in the way. The Trump administration plans to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, which may affect the collection of data to assess weak infrastructure.

“If the government stops collecting the data on flooding vulnerabilities, heat waves, then it’s going to be harder for the design and development communities to incorporate changes in their design,” Wilson said.

Still, he’s optimistic the government’s rejection of science about the effects of climate change will have only a temporary effect.

“The private sector is well aware of this, the insurance industry is increasingly aware of this and these industries will continue to drive progress in resilience.”