Greetings and welcome to the May 2019 edition of Valutus SustainabilityR.O.I., a Recap of things that caught our attention along with some Observations and Intelligence.
In it we Recap some surprising stories from a wide swath of sustainability issues. We have a special—and very personal—Observations this month, the voyages of the good ship Resolute, with yours truly on board as part of the 2019 Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit. It was fascinating and productive and awesome and I've done my best to help you feel it as I did. Intelligence continues our 'toolkit' series with the Science Based Carbon Target Setting & Tracking Tool, which takes the current painful, lengthy and expensive process and flips it into a simple, interactive and flexible process that takes a few hours.
As always, we hope you find all of it to be of value. Please consider forwarding to your colleagues if so, and thanks for being part of making the world a better place.
The Value of Values
Throughout the Star Trek universe there are references to the Kobayashi Maru, the infamous training scenario which James T. Kirk, as a young cadet, subverted by altering the program’s subroutine or, as Kirk insisted, “I changed the conditions of the test.” The Kobayashi Maru simulation, of course, was designed to be unwinnable, a pure test of character, a no-win scenario. “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” Kirk snapped.
We could sure use him right now.
William Shatner as Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Photo source: Wikipedia
Again and again, we are finding ourselves on this type of no-win knife edge, wherein the solutions that solve one critical problem become the causes of another. Last issue for example, we described coffee as both contributor to, and victim of, climate change. This issue it is rice, the most important food crop on earth, which is alternately ramping up, and suffering from, global warming due to methane from the flooded paddies.
Rice seedlings in a Japanese field.
The solution? Less water. Using a new, drier method gives a higher yield, saving water and substantially reducing methane. Yet we’ve recently learned that the less-flooded fields become factories for nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas (GHG) with a global warming potential (GWP) almost 200 times as potent as methane. So our best intentions as we try to curb world hunger will actually add massive amounts of GHGs to the atmosphere. There is more on this paradox below as we also report on a new study that pits two major sustainability concepts—the Planetary Boundaries and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—against one another. It’s coffee and rice all over again.
Brick outhouse at Thomas Jefferson Poplar Forest estate, Lynchburg, VA. Photo source: Wikipedia (CC 3.0 license)
As promised last month, the next story chronicles the value of one of humanity’s oldest renewable resources: manure—including our own. Modern plumbing has taken it away, but there are alternative destinations. Now, manure is trending towards green again, and not just for fertilizer but also for bricks. Unh huh, we know.
Photo by Shaah Shahidh / Unsplash
From there we give you an update on Big Shipping’s self-regulated commitment to sustainable seas, one in which Kirk might have murmured, “Get us out of here, Mr. Sulu, warp factor 1.”
Speaking of ships, Observations this month reports on Valutus Founder Daniel Aronson’s voyage to the North Atlantic gyre aboard the research vessel Resolute. It lays out Plastic Standard, our contribution to the initiative to create a comprehensive and truly meaningful standard for plastic-neutral using a yardstick, which we call Plastic Detriment Value (PDV).
Weathered ocean plastic. Photo by Daniel Aronson
Finally, Intelligence offers an in-depth look at our Science Based Carbon Target Setting & Tracking Tool, an incredibly fast yet thorough mechanism for planning, setting, visualizing and updating your science-based targets.
Monarch. Photo by Gary Bendig / Unsplash
Increasingly, we are creating a world where one wing of the butterfly sends ripples towards disaster, the other towards hope. The question before us is whether we see climate change as unwinnable, a test of our character in defeat, or whether we refuse to believe in no-win scenarios, and will do whatever it takes to—sorry, but we have no choice—live long and prosper.
Leonard Nimoy performing the Vulcan Salute. Photo by Gage Skidmore. Photo source: Wikipedia (CC 3.0 License)
Intense Rice: Serious Yields, No Laughing Matter
Rice seedlings in a Japanese field.
To a generation whose closest association with rice was a main course of Rice-A-Roni now and then, a side-dish of Uncle Ben’s, or a brief shower of the stuff at a wedding, it is difficult to convey just how incredibly crucial rice is to the three billion people who depend on it.
Photo by Franz Hulet / Unsplash
Between 23.5º North latitude and the Tropic of Capricorn to the south, its importance cannot be overstated. Half the world’s population relies on it as their primary food source and about 145 million small rice farmers’ livelihoods are tied to these slender green grasses. In most of Asia, central Africa and the Southern Americas, rice equals life.
Rice Plantation in Nepal. Photo by Goinyk
As any threat to the rice yield will affect not only those who depend on it now, but also the 2.5 billion humans we expect to welcome by the end of this century, it is critical, that this crop not only continue to yield in full measure, but that more—much more—be grown in the years to come. A 2004 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that “world rice production must increase by ≈1% annually to meet the growing demand for food that will result from population growth and economic development.”
Rice fields along the Niger River, where the species is believed to have originated. By Jun-Ichi Sakagama. Photo source: Wikipedia
Rice yields are threatened, however, by rising temperatures, especially higher nighttime temperatures, which seem to affect the plants’ respiration and lower grain yields. And more hectares being put into rice has also led to an unintended consequence: a huge increase in methane (CH4), a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) created in the anaerobic conditions of flooded rice paddies.
It is urgent that rice contribute more to the food supply, but no less urgent that it do so with less emissions than it is already responsible for—an estimated 1.5 to 2.5% of current global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
As the report continued, “Most of this increase must come from greater yields on existing cropland to avoid environmental degradation, destruction of natural ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.” With eleven percent of Earth’s arable land already under rice cultivation, the size of the problem becomes evident.
Rice terraces in Vietnam. Photo by Văn Ngọc Tăng / Unsplash
There are many methods for cultivating rice but for centuries most have involved flooding the paddies—parcels of arable land used for growing semiaquatic rice—for many stages of the plant’s life cycle. Yet complex anaerobic processes create both CO2 and, more critically, large volumes of methane. More cultivation means more rice but also more flooding—and more methane.
A brilliant solution, discovered almost 40 years ago in Madagascar but only gaining traction elsewhere in the last 20 years, is the system of rice intensification (SRI) which has now spread to parts of Thailand, Vietnam and other rice-basket nations. SRI involves planting fewer seedlings than formerly, spacing them farther apart, using far less water by flooding only intermittently, and mixing more organic matter into fertilizers. This results in yields from 20% to as high as 200% higher. Understandably, the method has now caught on and thousands of farmers in Africa and Asia are seeing great gains in yield with far less seed and, critically, much less water—an increasingly scarce resource.
Young rice plants in a flooded paddy. Photo by Peter Hershey / Unsplash
Sounds great, but there’s a problem: Nitrous oxide (N2O). It’s better known as laughing gas but there is nothing funny about its global warming potential (GWP), some 200 times greater than methane, and intermittent flooding creates the perfect soil conditions for its appearance. New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that intermittently flooded paddies can emit up to 45 times higher levels of N2O than traditional continual-flood fields. If the world turns to the SRI method without mitigating N2O, we could dramatically increase the impact rice already has on global warming—virtually overnight.
In other words: the conditions that dramatically increase yield and significantly reduce methane, are the same conditions that lead to a potentially far more serious climate problem, N2O.
There is some evidence that N2O can be mitigated, though there's currently a vigorous debate over how to do this and studies differ on best methods. One recent study found that a multi-pronged approach seemed to reduce N2O. “Promising mitigation options of GHG emission from rice cultivation are the application of water management, a nitrification inhibitor, iron supplement, rice cultivars selection, nutrient (organic-inorganic) management, (and) cultivation method.”
Rice Field. Photo by Nick Fewings / Unsplash
There is data suggesting that, “Under continuous flooding, redox conditions are conducive for methanogenesis, but not ideal for formation of N2O. Midseason drainage (a form of mild-intermittent flooding that causes a single long aeration event) brings redox conditions to levels that limit methanogenesis but are still lower than suitable for large amounts of N2O formation.”
Rice Paddies. Photo by Rio Lecatompessy / Unsplash
That assertion, however, has its critics and it is unclear exactly how this will all shake out. Given widely varying growing conditions in different rice-growing regions, it may be that a mixture of techniques will be needed. Here’s hoping we have a comprehensive solution soon. There are too many hungry people counting on it.
SDGs vs Planetary Boundaries.
Can We Honor Both?
Graphic source: United Nations
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals may just be the most noble set of aspirations ever developed by a group of humans. They are a comprehensive set of human needs writ large, and also writ small, an exhaustive yet lofty framework for solving human problems. Basic human needs and rights, such as ‘gender equality,’ ‘water and sanitation,’ ‘zero poverty,’ and ‘ending hunger in all its forms,’ and dozens of specific targets to achieve them, are things humans have strived for here and there—but never before have we collectively taken a stand to achieve such a complete and all-encompassing set of social goals.
Another laudable human achievement is the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s Planetary Boundaries, which define nine processes, or limits, that humanity must observe in order to avoid environmental disaster. Boundaries such as ‘loss of biosphere integrity,’ ‘chemical pollution and the release of novel entities,’ ‘climate change,’ and six others, were identified as limits beyond which we dare not cross—though, of course, we are currently doing so.
Both of these spring from the same source: a desire for the continued health and wellbeing of mankind’s planet and people. Yet they might not, in fact, be compatible, as a new study detailed recently in Science Daily sadly suggests.
Photo by Cassie Boca / Unsplash
The study, originally published in Nature Sustainability, went country by country—151 in all—looking at resource use and found that essentially the problem is this: rich countries “satisfy the basic needs of their citizens...at a level of resource use that is far beyond what is globally sustainable. In contrast, countries...using resources at a sustainable level, such as Sri Lanka, fail to meet the basic needs of their people," according to William Lamb, co-author of the study.
To put it another way: at least the way we’re currently doing things, we can either feed, house and clothe everybody to Western standards—and destroy the planet—or we can feed, clothe and house everyone at subsistence levels and save the environment.
This, to put it mildly, is not great news.
The study does not offer solutions to this conundrum save, perhaps, in this clue from the study’s other co-author, Dr. Julia Steinberger, who notes, “If all people are to lead a good life within the planet's limits then (our) provisioning systems need to be fundamentally restructured to allow for basic needs to be met at a much lower level of resource use." [Italics ours.] Not lower standard of living: lower resource use. Hope!
Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash
Yet it is more evidence that even our loftiest goals can lead us astray if we have not looked at them from all angles. The study suggests we must both learn to create more of what we need with fewer resources – and certainly the move towards sustainable energy sources alone will give us a boost in that direction—and also that we may simply need to need less.
As the study’s abstract points out, “Physical needs such as nutrition, sanitation, access to electricity and the elimination of extreme poverty could likely be met for all people without transgressing planetary boundaries. However, the universal achievement of more qualitative goals (for example, high life satisfaction) would require a level of resource use that is 2–6 times the sustainable level, based on current relationships.”
Looks like once again we will need to exhale and tighten our belts, then innovate so we can take them out a notch or two. If we can actually deliver on the promise of the SDGs, and stay within the limits of the Planetary Boundaries, now, that will be an achievement to write home about.
Biosolid Bricks: We Have Too Much of a Good Thing
Photo by Donald Giannatti / Unsplash
Last month we ran a story about sustainable bricks made, in part, from human urine. In it we mentioned “another animal end-product that has been used for both bricks and fertilizer for thousands of years,” and promised to delve into it (so to speak) this month.
Well, here we are and, as promised, biosolids are on the agenda. Biosolids? Sounds pretty benign, is there a problem? Well, for one thing we flush our ‘solids’, wastewater treatment plants turn them into biosolids, and about 30% of that goes to landfill or storage, in a cycle where the word ‘waste’ is sorely misplaced. We are wasting an incredibly valuable resource and, instead, causing greenhouse gas issues in landfills and storage areas. There’s a problem alright.
There are a number of potential solutions to this and using these materials for practical purposes is not a new concept. In historical Tokyo, for example, ‘night soil’ was collected and paid for by suburban farmers and used for fertilizer. In fact, human excreta was used throughout Japan for farming up until the middle of the 20th century.
Sewage treatment plant.
But now, a modern-day solution is also available. An academic team from Melbourne, Australia, has demonstrated that, "fired-clay bricks incorporating biosolids could be a sustainable solution for both the wastewater treatment and brickmaking industries," according to Science Daily. Just as with human urine, biosolids make excellent—and sustainable—bricks, and using them thus would break the cycle of wasting human waste products. It’s sounds weird but consider that bricks have been made from cow dung for thousands of years.
Outhouse in Narvik, Norway. Photo by Harald Groven. Image source: Wikipedia. (CC3.0 license)
Meanwhile, let’s look at this from a needs perspective. We need bricks. Globally we use about 1.5 trillion of them every year. Standard bricks use 3 billion cubic meters of clay soil, and require fossil fuels - often coal - to fire, creating serious environmental concerns. “First the bricks are dried for between 30 to 40 hours at temperatures of 80-100 degrees Celsius (176-212℉). Then they are baked at up to 40 hours at temperatures of 1,930 degrees Celsius (2,000℉). Every year in the developed world, billions of bricks are produced using these processes. The amount of energy needed for the above mentioned operations is colossal,” according to Botbrik.com
Human bricks? Photo by Neil Martin / Unsplash
So...why not bricks made from biosolids? They require just shy of 50% less energy to fire, for dramatically reduced carbon emissions (when using 25% biosolids). They are better insulators, saving even more emissions. And to complete the hattrick, they remove a source of methane and other greenhouse gases from landfills and storage sites.
Sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with human wastes in a different way than by flushing them into oceans, rivers or even treatment plants. More humans are on the way: all of them will create wastes and need bricks.
The Melbourne team laid out a pretty clear list of benefits these bricks offer.
Passed comprehensive strength tests
Heavy metal content trapped within the brick
More porous than standard brick for lower heat and cold conductivity
Use 50% less energy to fire/reduced carbon emissions (using 25% biosolid content)
Dramatic reduction in landfill and storage need
Reduced need for clay soil
Less expensive to produce
If that’s not convincing enough, this final nugget should do it.
As Science Daily reported, “About 5 million tonnes of the biosolids produced in Australia, New Zealand, the EU, US and Canada currently go to landfill or stockpiles each year. Using a minimum 15% biosolids content in 15% of bricks produced could use up this 5 million tonnes.” Boooom! That simple.
Maasai Village made with mud, thatch, cow dung and (sometimes) human urine. Photo by Life on White
We get it that there will be resistance to this concept. People in some parts of the world have lived in houses made of animal dung for many generations but, even for them, this might be an odd concept. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with the potential benefits and as for the downside… we haven’t found it yet.
Photo by Nicole Honeywill / Unsplash
We understand that, should this concept catch on, wisecrackers out there will have a field day and emojis will fly, but that may be a small price to pay for such an obvious solution to three critical issues: emissions, biosolid storage and the need for cheaper, better-insulating bricks.
Shipping Update: Slow Steaming Picks Up Steam
Singapore multi-modal freight Yard. Photo by Chuttersnap / Unsplash
Months ago we reported that the maritime industry was struggling towards a plan to reduce its massive carbon footprint—currently about 2.5 - 3% of global carbon emissions, and expected to get well into double-digits by mid-century if steps are not taken—to get in line with the Paris accords, which did not include shipping. This has huge implications for the planet as, “marine vessels account for about 4% of global oil demand and are a critical part of the global economy, moving more than 80% of global trade by volume and more than 70% by value,” says the Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide.
As we reported then, just a year ago the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set an aggressive target to reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 (compared to 2008) “and to pursue efforts to phase out carbon emissions entirely,” according to The Maritime Executive. We thought it was time to check back in on this story.
Photo by Craig Cameron / Unsplash
Everything from solar to bringing back sail was on the table, and several enormous ships—notably a Maersk tanker fitted with innovative columnar sails by Finnish company Noresepower—have reduced their carbon footprint dramatically. We have also seen regulations to reduce black carbon and many other initiatives. “The IMO is taking aim more broadly at pollution, requiring ships to start using low-sulfur fuel in 2020 and sending shipowners scrambling to invest in smokestack scrubbers (which clean exhaust) or looking at cleaner but pricier distillate fuels.”
Antwerp, Belgium Port Authority. Photo by Olafpictures / Pixabay
Right now however, the industry is divided over mandating ‘slow steaming,’ meaning a speed limit for ships, as one of the “early” measures needed to achieve reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping before 2023,” the date of the industry’s next goal-setting forum. There is hardly agreement about this approach as a quick glance at the recent headlines makes clear.
From Quartz we read, “More than 100 maritime CEOs want to fight climate change by slowing down ships.” followed quickly by, “Amid decarbon pressure, ship speeds already slowing”
The J.O.C. transportation industry newsletter, however, countered with, “Slow-steaming hardly an emissions silver bullet.”
Tradewinds news fired back with, “Slow steaming seems the only obvious way for shipping to meet carbon emissions targets,” even as their own follow up headline a week later read, “Slow steaming will give ‘false impression’ of carbon emissions reductions.”
Fully loaded container ship in the port of Hamburg. Photo by Julius Silver / Pixabay
If you are currently flapping a finger across your lips and saying “wubba, wubba, wubba,” we feel you. Let’s try to parse this out, shall we?
Ships have deliberately slowed in the past in response to two stimuli: a slowdown in the economy in 2008 leading to lower demand for consumer goods; and increases in fuel prices. Slower speeds require less fuel, and this helped ease costs during times when oil prices rose. However, with a hot global economy and lower fuel prices, speeds have picked up again. Many in the industry want to slow them back down but this time, it’s to lower emissions. There appear to be two separate fractures over this strategy. The first is between bulk cargo ships carrying commodities—which tend to have more flexibility in their schedules—and container ships carrying consumer goods, which have explicit deadlines to hit.
Tugs maneuvering a freighter. Photo by Chuttersnap
“Container ship services,“ says J.O.C.com, operate mostly on weekly schedules, supporting global supply chains in food, consumer, and industrial products that require predictable transport services, even if those services are frequently delayed.” They note that a regular route requiring 12 ships at full speed would require 13 or 14 ships at slow steam, which would worsen the emissions problem rather than reduce it. Though container shipping currently accounts for around 20% of global commercial shipping, the list of 100 shipping executives asking for slow steaming above was, “conspicuously lacking any container carriers,” as signatories.
The other, and perhaps more meaningful argument, has to do with a slowdown’s effectiveness. We know that, during the last period of economically based slow steaming, the industry reduced carbon emissions by about 13 percent. So it made sense to some that, since, “no one currently knows which zero-or low-carbon propulsion sources will be technologically and economically viable,” going forward, slow steaming is an obvious first step to meet upcoming carbon targets.
. Cargo ship in Amsterdam harbor. Photo by David Mark / Pixabay
Some however, such as the UK Chamber of Shipping, have called the proposal “just not good enough” and “a false impression that the industry is taking action, when in reality they will deliver no meaningful reduction in emissions.”
Such generalizations aside, the chamber has some relevant points, for example, that slower shipping speeds might lead to more products shipped by plane or truck with their accompanying higher emissions; that the appearance of action might stall research and development of technologies that could make a far more significant impact; and that it might force ships away from certain ports where delays are more likely to occur.
Ship steaming at sunset. Photo by Val Vesa / Unsplash
What is clear is that the industry actually is in motion. New tech is being tested. New fuels are being examined. New ship designs are being drafted and some more efficient craft are already in the waters. And now, slow steaming—should it be agreed upon at this year’s IMO meeting—may at least begin to decrease emissions across the shipping board while clean tech comes on line and shipping moves towards its carbon-neutral goal for mid-century.
The Voyage of the Resolute
Evolution of a Plastic Standard
The RCGS Resolute at anchor off a Sargassum bed. Photo by Bryan Liscinsky
When Charles Darwin set off on his voyage of discovery in the Beagle, he little knew the ramifications that journey would have. Afterwards, it took him 28 years to get The Origin of Species into print, only to stun and, in many cases, to offend, the scientific world and the public with his ideas.
When I boarded the plane for Bermuda last week, for a voyage of discovery on the RCGS Resolute, I also was unaware just what the result would be. All I knew was, I’d been invited to be part of an expedition to examine plastic in the North Atlantic Gyre, one of a number of places where we’re finding more and more plastic in the ocean.
With another member of the fearless crew, Virginie Helias of P&G. Photo by Daniel Aronson
Making the trip with me were over 150 stakeholders from all sides of the plastics question—sustainability executives from giant corporations, CEOs, scientists, major recyclers and some household-name environmental NGOs. We were going in search of plastics and, more importantly, solutions.
I brought four things to the voyage:
First, the results of a year of working on a framework for the impact of plastic on the environment. Second, days-old research, by my colleague Dr. Miguel Fernandes, into the plastic that’s washing up on the beaches. Third, a new website, PlasticStandard.com, to share publicly the framework and research with others working on the issue.
And finally, a desire to see what others had done and how we could learn from each other and combine our efforts
The fourth, the desire to work together, was the most important—and was an attribute everyone on the expedition shared.
Darwin himself would have found it difficult to classify just what species of voyage this was. Neither a cruise nor a conference, exactly. It was not a purely scientific expedition, though there was science going on, and the Resolute has a full-time research lab. Rather, it was an amalgam of all of these. It worked because many who might, in their daily jobs, be working on different sides of the plastics question, put all that aside and spent four days working intensely, side-by-side, to build structures and frameworks and working groups and models to figure out what the heck to do about ocean plastics.
A working session on the Resolute. Photo by Bryan Liscinsky
This was all part of the 2019 Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit, an event organized and led by Soul Buffalo which hosts, in their own words, “invitation-only gatherings that unite esteemed stakeholders to translate sustainability commitments and goals into meaningful action.”
In this case, the stakeholders were united in their commitment to create sustainability commitments and goals. Despite the clear and pervasive issue of plastics in our waters, there isn’t the comprehensive set of goals and plans we need as a planet to tackle it. So for four days, we worked on exactly that.
I’m not sure what Darwin’s schedule was like but in our case, it was 12 hours a day focused on ocean plastics. We had plenary presentations, spent more than a dozen hours in our working groups, and snorkeled in a sargassum patch with the seabed almost a mile-and-a-half below, dodging Portuguese Man-o-Wars in search of microplastics. We trawled for a mile or more in each direction and had the contents analyzed for plastics.
Plastics in the sargassum. Photo by Bryan Liscinsky.
The issues raised and work done showed the true breadth of the issue. For more than a year I’ve been working on a specific aspect of the plastics issue: plastic neutrality. Up to now, plastic neutral has been measured using weight—a ton used, a ton recycled. This doesn’t make sense, and it’s not a solid foundation on which to build our efforts to combat plastic in the environment.
Consider greenhouse gases (GHGs), where we now know and account for the fact that some are far more powerful than others. The Global Warming Potential (GWP) of the various gases must be taken into account before a company can claim neutrality. Remediating a ton of carbon dioxide, for example, with a ton of SF6—which has more than 20,000 times the warming potential of CO2—is clearly inappropriate.
Small pieces of plastic washed up on the beach. Photo by Daniel Aronson
In the same way, all plastics are not created equal, and we need a broadly accepted standard for plastic neutral to allow us to deal with this problem much more quickly and appropriately. We need to ask, for example, how large the particulate is, since small plastics can be eaten by fish, reducing the survival rates of fish populations. On our voyage we found hundreds of pieces of microplastics loose in the open sea, just in our very small patch of ocean, along with larger fragments and complete forms (for example, an intact toilet seat).
Similarly, we must also ask whether the plastic is buried in a landfill, or loose in a river system on its way to the open sea. And in terms of measuring impact, it matters greatly what the plastic’s level of toxicity is.
Plastic Detriment Value elements. Image: PlasticStandard.com
Before the Resolute left the dock, my company had a working framework of no less than twelve metrics—including weight—that must be taken into account in a realistic Plastic Standard. In our Metrics working group sessions at sea, we batted around a bunch more that may need to be accounted for, and we talked about implementation, data structures, and how to organize all the information we need.
A Bermuda beach we visited during the Summit. Photo by Tom Gruber
Because of the time we were able to spend working, and the time available for small groups to talk, we were able to collaborate far more closely and at length than any typical convention would allow. Further, Soul Buffalo’s unique formula for bringing potentially adversarial stakeholders together in an intimate, escape-proof space, gave room for truly wide-ranging conversation and eliminated the echo-chamber effect single-issue conferences can create.
We had perspectives in the room who believed plastics are good, they just need to be kept out of the oceans. We also had those who wanted to remove plastics from the world altogether. And, we had them talking and working together on the problem. How cool is that?
Off to the sargassum in search of ocean plastic. Photo by Yarrow Kraner
In the end, the group agreed that a realistic standard for plastic impact is needed, one similar to carbon’s Global Warming Potential (GWP). I agree, and I believe that such a metric (we call our version Plastic Detriment Value, or PDV) will allow companies to target the most critical plastics, to prevent them ever reaching a sensitive ecosystem or a waterway, and to prioritize the most important ones to remove first.
For me personally, this was a chance to get in a room with many of those who can decide how plastics are going to be dealt with and make it stick. One day, for example, one of the participants from a major multinational corporation went to make a call. He returned later and announced, “Just talked to the CEO and he’s on board!”
That's the appropriate metaphor, of course, given that we were on a ship, but it is also a harbinger that this concept, and the incredible importance of getting plastics permanently out of our environment, is becoming the common wisdom.
One year of plastic washed up on a very small strip of Nonsuch Island beach. Photo by Daniel Aronson
In the end, it was bracing to see the scale of the problem, but also encouraging to see the scope of the response. By the time we docked four days later, I was part of a committed working group from the ship, one of more than a dozen such groups that sprang out of the voyage. And I had a deepened understanding of, and commitment to, grappling with and beating the ocean plastics problem. Such is 21st century exploration.
Coda: There will be more great info and connections about plastics at Sustainable Brands in Detroit in under two weeks, such as this fantastic session. As I’ve said for months, SB’19 is a fantastic event that I wouldn’t miss. If you can, see for yourself starting June 3rd in Detroit. (To get 20% off, use the code JoinMe when you register here.)
Science Based Carbon Target Setting
& Tracking Tool
Photo by Philip Swinburn / Unsplash
The Science Based Targets initiative, created by some of the most potent and committed NGOs in the world along with the United Nations Global Compact, can be an incredibly powerful force for carbon reduction once enough companies sign on.
Last May, in his excellent blog for The Conference Board, Dr. Uwe G. Schulte laid out the simple steps for setting Science Based Carbon Targets (SBTs).
First, the company must complete a commitment letter.
Next, it must develop a target.
Third, that target must be submitted for validation.
Finally, once accepted, the target must be announced.
Items 1, 3 and 4 are not exactly challenging. Write a letter, submit it and publicize your commitment. Yawn. Any large corporation can do that without breaking a sweat.
No, it is the second step that many companies find so vexing, so irritating, so downright bothersome that they throw up their hands and say, “What a pain in the neck. Forget this.”
But is that the wise choice? Dr. Schulte lays out the pros and cons approximately this way:
Pros: The targets will be independently approved; they will have a positive effect on stakeholders, NGOs and investors; and will make it much easier to have the internal discussion about the right targets
Cons: The target-setting method is complex and companies have had numerous problems identifying the correct data; and the process requires considerable time and resources.
Photo by Mauro Paillex / Unsplash
But what if the hard part were removed? What if setting a target were actually easy, could be done, say, in a few hours rather than weeks or months…would that change the equation here? In the words of Rowan and Martin, you bet your sweet bippy it would!
Our Science Based Carbon Target Setting & Tracking Tool – it’s a mouthful, but a tasty one! – was designed for exactly this purpose. Because the ‘hard part’ should be achieving the targets, not setting them. The Valutus tool saves you time and money, and, most importantly, makes it far more likely your organization will be willing to set SBTs. Here’s a brief video that takes you through the tool’s various capabilities.
Photo by Artur Matosyan / Unsplash
Here are some other things it does—instantly and comprehensively—that streamline and enrich your goal-setting process.
The tool enables you to visualize both individual and cumulative effects of carbon reduction initiatives, graphically displaying the "wedges" created. This makes it easy for everyone to see and understand how your plans compare to what is actually required
It also makes building support for the targets much easier, by displaying both the current and the required emissions trajectories graphically, and enabling instant modifications and visualizations
It’s completely interactive and lends itself to the what if? questions, such as What if we used intensity targets instead of absolutes? Or What would happen if we started in 2022 instead of 2020? How about if we wanted to set a 2030 goal, or a 2025 one? Answering these questions usually consumes a great deal of valuable time, but with the Valutus tool, you’ll have the answers the moment you ask them.
Photo by Nelsonart
Tracking and updating is also greatly simplified. Once your targets are set, you then have to track progress and actual emissions. It takes time, year after year, to manually enter the actuals, recalculate—by hand—both your current trajectory and the one required to meet the goal, and to create fresh visuals to illustrate your progress. With the Valutus tool however, none of that is necessary. Simply enter one number each year and the rest happens automatically—and instantly.
We believe companies can best serve the world, and their own long-term interests, by committing to deep carbon reductions, and the SBTs are tailor-made for this purpose. Overcoming some of the barriers—notably time and money—that have to this point prevented many from participating, will help this far-reaching, strategic and critical program to support the IPCC's recent call to arms on reining in climate change.
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