Greetings and welcome to the January 2019 edition of Valutus SustainabilityR.O.I., a Roundup of things that caught our attention along with some Observations and Intelligence.
This month’sIntelligence gives our perspective on the value of tools and details a few of those we’ve created to manage sustainability. Observations, meanwhile, notes a need for more support for aligning micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with the U.N. SDGs.
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Thanks for being part of making the world a better place.
The Value of Values
So, 2018 happened. Whew! Time to take a breath; to sit quietly and sip some organic, fair-trade Earl Grey. Pet the cat, munch some sprouted whole-grain toast, rest our feet on the natural-fiber ottoman, and just chill.
Chill?! Holy hydrogen cells, there’s so much to do in 2019 - and we’ve got the year in prospective, below. So strap your vegan belt through the loops of your undyed, certified-sustainable jeans; shove some lab-‘meat’ sandwiches in your pocket — and we have that story for you too — then quick! Grab your rowboat, slip on those authentic-rubber galoshes and start rowing frantically to work!
Photo by Evan Krause / Unsplash
Let’s see, what’ll it be? Catalyzing your industry to sign on to SDGs #3, #5 and #14? Getting approval for your science-based target strategy? If so, seeIntelligence for a sheaf of tools that may assist.
Read on and next month you may be tabulating your Planetary Accounting budget (article below), or perhaps be converting your fleet to forest-based biofuels -- yeah, we have it. If you’ve committed to a ‘mammoth’ issue like keeping our permafrost frosty, this is also the issue for you.
Photo by Gervyn Louis / Unsplash
But whatever else we know about 2019, we know it must be the year we hit the pedal, slap the wheel and turn that sharp and slippery corner on sustainability. Whatever you’re up to, thanks for being up to it!
2019: The Year In Prospective
A tumultuous year is behind us and an even more tumultuous one promises to be underway. In some ways sustainability truly arrived in 2018, capturing the public mind and the business sector in a way that was palpably different. There’s nothing like an emergency report from the U.N., punctuated with a record number of major weather and climate events, to bring things into focus! That said, what exactly should we focus on in this shiny new year? Below are some predictions industry practitioners are talking about for 2019.
Circular Economy. Roland, Inc., identified CE as one of three major trends for this year. “New markets will increasingly leverage post-consumer materials as valuable commodities,” they assert. Now, it has long been a truism that obsolescence — planned or not — is good for business. And so, as The Economistnoted last year, “The question is how to persuade...firms to go against their apparent self-interest in order to create a more circular economy.” McKinsey, in their own CE report, may have provided the answer. Economic data from Europe shows a circular economy’s potential for a marked increase in productivity, dramatic cost savings and many millions of new jobs. __________________________
Motherless Meat, as the New York Times has dubbed it, is up-and-coming this year. Forbes and others have it trending as well. We agree, and for our article on Faux Meat in this very issue, see below. __________________________
Measurement and quantifying impact was also on Roland’s list and for good reason: it’s high on ours as well. We believe good metrics are the driver of business sustainability actions and our Intelligence section, below, deals with some our new tools for streamlining these processes. ___________________________
Green Construction. Several outlets had green buildings on their list for this year including BDC Network, who predicted a strong trend in prefabricated buildings. We don’t often quote the Regina, Alberta Leader Post, but hey, take good information where you find it. They are anticipating a strong uptick in green tech and especially net zero construction in the new year. ___________________________
More Third-Party Partnerships. Finally, Roland completes their trend trifecta by predicting more partnerships between businesses and sustainable or socially responsible organizations. They cite Microsoft’s collaboration with Earthwatch Institute and Starbucks’ work with Sustana Fiber on developing the perfect single-use hot cup, among others, as examples of this trend. ___________________________
Well, we’re certainly rooting for all of the above. 2019? Tumultuous, yes, but it’s sure going to be interesting!
Budgeting Your Climate Footprint?
Call Your Planetary Accountant!
Photo by Temitayo Aina / Unsplash
For centuries humans had carte blanche when it came to planetary resources. From chopping down trees to hunting bison to letting the water run in the sink, we had no limits. So...how’s all that working out for good ol’ planet Earth?
In the past few years there’s been some guidance for governments in the form of international agreements and some for industry and commerce in the form of the U.N. SDGs and Science-Based Targets. There are many things, such as recycling and using less plastic, that local businesses and individuals have been doing. Yet so far there has not been a single approach that is practical, scalable, and effective across all of these on how big a slice of the planet's resources are for our own use.
But what if we had a real-time budget for our personal, business or community footprint that simply said, “Hey, here’s how much pie we have and here’s your share.” Planetary Accounting (PA) attempts to do just that. Still in its infancy, it’s an intriguing new concept that may help us manage our behavior based on science and quotas rather than seat-of-the-pants or merely intuitive decisions.
Based on the nine ‘Planetary Boundaries’ proposed by a group of scientists in 2009 — such as ozone depletion, chemical pollution, climate change and so on — all huge global issues — Planetary Accounting attempts to quantify the use of resources by government, industry, community, on down to our personal use. It sets clear and unambiguous budgets, or quotas, for us to follow to stay within our own share of various resources. That jaunt to Chicago you planned for next week? Hmm, not in the budget. Better push it to next month. Or perhaps we have to think twice before running the dishwasher tonight.
The Planetary Accounting Network, an organization working to promote this approach, suggests we think about these quotas as we now think about food labelling. Instead of calories and sodium however, there would be metrics for global impact using the planetary boundaries (see illustration below). Not so much rations issued by the authorities but rather as information we can use to make informed and science-based decisions.
Originally published by BioMed Central (CC-BY license) via Springer Nature
Kate Meyer, founder of the Planetary Accounting Network, wrote in the Blog On Biology that these quotas are, “...what is needed to restore and sustain the global environment at different scales...and may help us tackle the problem by answering the question — what can YOU do to help.”
This is an innovative and intriguing new approach. On its face it shows promise. Will it work? We’ll have to see. If it gains traction and mainstream acceptance we may all be counting our personal carbon soon.
A Forest Of Fuels: The Growth Of
When the Wright Brothers first flew over Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, they knew they were on to something big. Perhaps they caught a glimpse of the coming age of aviation as they viewed the landscape below?
One thing they likely did not envision however, was that later planes would fly so fast and high that they would actually create the landscape itself. Contrails, those Etch-a-sketch® streaks across the sky that form from jet exhaust, could not have been imagined then. Silver and gold in the sunlight yet ephemeral as clouds, these iconic bands of water vapor and CO2 are a bit of a problem now that there are more than 100,000 global jet flights daily.*
Although aviation accounts for only three or four percent of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as one report put it, “If global aviation was a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters.” And this number is growing rapidly.
Airlines have been increasing in fuel efficiency for years and innovations such as winglets — the upturned tips of most modern jet wings — have helped, but not enough. So what to do?
Well, how about clearing forest litter and fermenting it into jet fuel? Wait, you mean you’ve never heard of “lignocellulosic biorefinery infrastructure?” Hmm. Weird.
Look, given recent events this may be hard for some of us to hear, but combing the forest floor really can have value.
Photo by Casey Horner / Unsplash
The serious uptick in wildfires has, “given urgency to questions of how to reduce fire hazard...how to pay for the work, and how to use the wood,” according to a report from the California Biomass Collaborative a few years back. How to accomplish all these at once? Biofuel. Take forest litter, add a little magic, et voila! Transportation fuels suitable for today’s massive jet planes.
Studies are underway about the global impact of converting all or part of modern jet fuels to biofuel and some nations are already taking this to the next level. Norway, for example, has mandated that 30% of all aviation fuel used domestically must come from bio sources and, further, that all flights over Norwegian airspace must use at least 0.5% biofuel.
A number of link this innovation closely to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are careful to note that, while forest-sourced fuels assist with greenhouse gas reduction, they “put pressure” on several other SDGs. Fortunately the science suggests that, “Most of these adverse side-effects are alleviated with technological and supply-chain improvements. Environmental sustainability analysis can identify both synergies (mitigation options that co-deliver across SDGs) and trade-offs between climate change mitigation and the SDGs, thereby supporting their early management and mitigation,” according to Nature Sustainability.
So while the Wright Brothers were soaring over the woods near Kitty Hawk, they never dreamed it was the stumps, logs and leaves below that would sustainably fuel the jumbo jets of the future.
A Mammoth Idea For The Climate
Permafrost tundra, Herschel Island, Yukon, Canada. Photo Source: Wikipedia
DNA splicing. Chaos theory. The butterfly effect. Global warming, and the return of huge ancient creatures. Yes, this story has them all but it’s not Jurassic Park. It’s an effort to regenerate the Wooly Mammoth, that long-extinct, cold-adapted elephant of the northern steppes.
Photo by April Pethybridge / Unsplash
According to The New Yorker, a small group of scientists conceived the idea that they may be able to save the fast-warming tundra — and thereby prevent the release of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — by bringing this Ice Age icon back.
In brief, tundra exposed to frigid air or trampled snow stays frozen better than that laying under an insulating blanket of unspoiled powder. Once thawed, the soil is, “packed with leaves and other organic materials that haven't decayed (and) will become exposed, releasing carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide and methane,” according to Newsweek. While the permafrost goes down nearly a mile in some places, when we consider that, "The top 3 feet alone is estimated to contain twice as much carbon as what’s already in the Earth’s atmosphere," this becomes truly urgent.
Polygon ‘patterned ground’ permafrost. Photo source: Wikipedia
Heavy animals that disturb, trample and pack down snow, therefore, can keep the land colder. As The New Yorker reports this month, there is an experiment underway using horses, bison and other hoofed herbivores in a small area on the Siberian tundra — known as Pleistocene Park — and the test grounds there are 2° colder than the surrounding terrain. Yet the creature who best fits this snow-mashing job description, the mammoth, died some four-to-six thousand years ago, shortly after the last time the earth rapidly warmed.
Photo by Christopher Alvarenga / Unsplash
According to Project Drawdown, which documents extant solutions for reversing climate change, the science behind the Pleistocene Park experiment in Siberia is among the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming, and bringing back the mammoth, or a strong facsimile thereof, could help keep the ‘frozen’ in ‘frozen tundra.”
These scientists believe that by combining modern-day Asian elephants with genetic “adaptations” — more body fat, more fur and hair for starters — they can recreate these ice-age beasts. Modern science tells us man used to hunt these creatures for food. Now, we are hunting for a way to bring them back. Nikita Zimov, one of the scientists who originated Pleistocene Park, told PRI's Living on Earth, “There is only one theoretical chance to prevent [permafrost thaw] from happening. We must restore the Ice Age ecosystem” The future of the mammoth, and ours, may depend on it.
Meat Foes Meet Faux Meat #1: Lab-Grown
Photo by Jake Sloop / Unsplash
Okay, it’s time. It’s time to talk about beef that never met a cow. Now is the time because, while it’s clear the world needs millions fewer cattle, it’s also clear the world is not planning to go vegan any time soon. Something’s gotta give and one potentially viable option is actual meat that’s been grown from cells, not butchered from steers.
Dubbed ‘lab-grown meat’, it’s meat in every sense of the word. But will people eat it? If so, we have a chance to save the planet a whole lot more easily. If not? Well, there is one more option (see vegetable-based meats section below).
Meanwhile an article in Bigthink.com grinds this argument down to the gristle, using extrapolated data from a study reported in Environmental Science & Technology. First, the numbers:
The original cost, more than $300k per burger in 2013, is down to about $11 bucks today. Economies of scale and better techniques will surely bring that down even further. The average restaurant cheeseburger — what The New York Times called, “The coal of the food world,” is about $4.50 and the vegan Beyond Burger is in restaurants at $6.49 and up.
Cuts land use — and this is crucial — by about 99%. Close to 650 million acres would be freed up and if even a healthy fraction of that land is reforested, we’re in a whole new ballgame
Those concerned about husbandry practices and cruelty to animals could eat burgers all day with no guilt
In other words, this is at least a win/win/win/win/win. And yet we ask again: will people eat it?
We should note, beef is not the only lab-made offering. Food and Winereported last year that an Israeli firm named SuperMeat is bringing chicken products to market, though as of this writing the company’s website still proclaims it is, “coming soon.”
Yeah, you ask again, but will people eat it?
That, currently, is the multi-billion-dollar and multi-SDG question, and the planet is holding its breath awaiting the answer. Will they eat it? It is looking more and more like they will have no choice. Or will they? Our next article addresses the other meat alternative.
Meat Foes Meet Faux Meat #2: Vegetable Based
As the U.N. has made very clear, and we have documented here, a change to planetary veganism is the simplest way to save the Earth. Yet as we note above, the world shows no sign of making this change. Options? One is meats created in a laboratory (See story above.)Real beef, true, but beef that never had hooves, horns or tail. The jury is still out on whether the public will accept this en masse, though the cost has fallen from hundreds of thousands per burger to only $11 bucks or so. Still, that’s a bit steep and we don’t know how soon, or how far, the cost will come down.
Another option, one already commercialized, is ersatz meats, made from vegetable sources. This market has grown enormously, while varieties have proliferated and improved so dramatically in recent years that, for most, it would be a fairly easy transition from butchered meats.
The Impossible™ Burger ’By Missvain / Own work, CC BY 4.0,
Matt Materazo of ADF Foods, which makes a line of faux meats, told Forbes, “When the industry gets to the point when people can say ‘I can’t believe this isn’t real meat,’ that is when the majority of consumers will make the move.” Hmm. Okay then, it just may be time as, “Plant-based meat sales have skyrocketed by 24 percent over the last 12 months topping $670 million in sales,” according to an article in Plant Based News.
Companies like Impossible™ Foods, makers of the Impossible Burger, have so replicated the look, taste and texture of meat that consumers may echo the quote above. As noted in The Spoon’s review, Impossible isn’t trying to make a health-food burger—just one that tastes as good as meat.” However, “their patty has comparable levels of protein, iron and fat to an 80/20 beef burger, though it doesn’t contain cholesterol.” The magic is in something called heme, a substance rich in iron which mimics the red, moist ‘meatiness’ of real meats, and coconut oil which mimics the animal fat.
What is striking is the number of nationwide and worldwide chains offering plant-based meats, while upscale and trendy restaurants have embraced the movement as well.
From joints like Carl’s Jr., offering the Beyond Burger® at more than 1,100 outlets — also selling at 15,000 stores coast to coast, with, to quote McDonalds, more than 13 million sold — to the Shake Shack’s “Veggie Shack” black bean-based burger which debuted last year, restaurants have come to understand they must embrace, or at least cater to, the non-meat market.
Planet lovers everywhere are hoping flexitarians and meat lovers alike will find these alternatives workable. Can the earth remain sustainable if they don’t?
Umm...if there are no further questions, class is dismissed.
Saving ‘Planet A’ With SDGs & MSMEs
Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary General of the U.N., and a highly quotable man, once said we were using our planet's resources as though we had another to inhabit when this one was spent. “There can be no 'Plan B,” he quipped, “because there is no 'Planet B.'
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of the signature achievements of Ban Ki-moon’s administration, have only been in place for three years and were keyed to a completion date of 2030 — just twelve years hence.
Ban Ki-moon Photo / Wikipedia
As Ban’s successor wrote in last year’s (2018) U.N. SDG Report, “Achieving the 2030 Agenda requires immediate and accelerated actions by countries along with collaborative partnerships among governments and stakeholders at all levels.”
True that! And as to those 'levels,' there clearly is motion on behalf of many stakeholders. Individuals have been galvanized around the globe. Larger players, such as governments, are in significant motion too. Big business and multinationals are also highly engaged: aligning strategies with the SDGs, truing-up business practices, targeting their philanthropy differently, and catalyzing this ethos throughout their value chains. Per the report, “...Three quarters of the top 100 companies in 49 countries,” are reporting on sustainability, which is excellent news.
But what about smaller businesses? There, the U.N. report says, the SDGs are lagging far behind, and this is serious. “The practice needs to expand to smaller enterprises,” it asserts. “The lack of expertise and resources for reporting by small and medium-sized enterprises, which play a key role in some economies, especially in developing countries,” is highly problematic for the SDGs.
A study by the World Bank suggests there may be close to 400 million MSMEs (Micro-, Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises) globally. The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs held an international symposium on this issue last summer and summed it up in the event’s report:
“[MSMEs] are now emerging as a central topic in sustainable development strategies for many governments around the world. Divergent initiatives, programmes, messages, and policies further fragment the potential for a global movement led by MSMEs to achieve the SDGs.
Coconut Ice Cream Vendor, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo / Dan Kempner
“Led by” these tiny to medium-sized concerns? Wow. With twelve years left in the SDG timeline, the issue of MSMEs is likely to become front-and-center in this work. Simple, inexpensive, scalable tools, will need to be made widely available along with access to credit, education and support if these tiny powerhouses are indeed destined to lead the way on the SDGs. It’s critical that we do this as MSMEs can account for, per the World Bank report, “up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies." So how do we do it?
For one, the World Bank itself is rolling out legal and institutional support programs and help on the credit front, understanding that, “Without access to capital, many SMEs languish and stagnate.” As there is a credit gap of more than two-and-a-half trillion U.S. dollars between large businesses and MSMEs, this is an enormous problem.
Regarding education and metrics tools, however, the picture is a bit better. For example, the Search Engine for Business Sustainability Resources (SHIFT) is a free resource designed and built at MIT for exactly this purpose.**
Twelve years to go and the MSMEs are a giant engine in need of power and direction. It is our task to ensure they get them.
___________________________ ** Disclosure: Valutus founder Daniel Aronson developed the idea for SHIFT along with Phil Clawson
The Value Of A Toolbox
Anyone who’s ever used an old-fashioned hand drill knows what a boon it is to reach into the toolbox and pull out a shiny new high-torque power drill and do in a few minutes what might have taken hours otherwise.
Yet over the years, when working hard to drill down on sustainability, we’d reach into the toolbox...but the right tools weren’t there.
Photo Justin Bautista / Unsplash
Again and again companies thumped up against barriers, and the lack of proper tools reduced their ability to move critical sustainability projects forward or even to engage at all. Watching as we all reinvented the wheel on every project was painful.
Fortunately the sustainability space has matured and has begun to address this issue. However, there are still many fewer arrows in the quiver than needed. Accordingly, over four years ago, Valutus set out to create tools that were scalable and could be applied to almost any company’s sustainability work, to help them drill powerfully through those barriers.
Photo: Malte Wingen / Unsplash
Over the next months in this space we will be detailing many of these tools and their applications but here, in brief, are four of the most common issues and the tools we’ve developed to resolve them.
Knowingwhere to focus for the most useful impact
Materiality was created with this in mind. Yet as we noted a few months back, materiality — as practiced — is broken. (See article here.) We have overhauled it (see that article here) and now offer Materiality Squared, a tool that helps create a truly powerful, more in-depth, and far-reaching materiality assessment — and does it faster. Once that is done we complete the strategy with our Catalytic Strategy Process— something we call Who / What / Wall / Way. (See what we did there? Catchy, right?)
Photo: Matt Artz / Unsplash
Lack of time, budget, and capacity for all available sustainability initiatives
There's never enough of these for everything sustainability practitioners want to do but our sheaf of tools for setting and tracking targets, quantifying value — valuation tools for customer behavior, for talent and for risk — along with our Materiality Squared tool, are designed to make important tasks faster and easier. And by faster we mean a couple of weeks instead of several months
Lack of leadership support
Buy-in from the rest of the business is critical: for securing funding, assistance, data, etc. Companies often don't see the value sustainability creates and therefore don't support it strongly. Our valuation tools and consulting are designed to show sustainability's true value including 'submerged value' — secondary and tertiary value usually unseen before the fact but averaging around 80% of sustainability’s true business value. Our Submerged Value Tool (read about it here) is designed to raise this value to the surface and, when the true value of this initiative is understood, funding and buy-in may follow
Insufficient metrics for proving impact, thereby preventing companies from improving it
It is a truism that, ‘if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.’ Conversely, if you can measure it…
But measuring is often easier said than done. How do you connect metrics to strategy? How do you design a full metrics system? And how do you integrate information from different sources and different definitions? Our Metrics Tool Kit and Metrics Development Process are designed to help with these challenges
And all of our target tools — for carbon, for waste, and for water — can take just a few days to calculate your target rather than the standard of several months.
Just as no self-respecting mechanic would work without the right tools, there is now a wide array of such to choose from. A box full of shiny new tools can help you build strong, integrated and impactful sustainability programs.
Over the next few months we will take in-depth looks at each of those noted above and more. Stay tooled..er, tuned!
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this worth your time.
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