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It won’t be easy and will require major new efforts, but it can be done. Our new World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future — co-issued by the World Bank, UN Environment Programme and UN Development Programme — recommends a menu of 22 solutions served over five courses:

  1. Reduce growth in demand;

  2. Increase food production without expanding agricultural land;

  3. Increase fish supply;

  4. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from agricultural production; and

  5. Protect and restore natural ecosystems.

This menu enables the world to close the gap between the food available today and that needed by 2050, without clearing more land for farming and while reducing the food system’s GHGs to a level aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Some items on the menu require more farmers to implement best practices that already exist today. Others need consumers to change behavior, or governments and businesses to reform policies.

The challenge is sufficiently large, however, that many solutions will require technological innovations. Advancing them is a major theme of our report. Here are 10 important examples:

  1. Plant-based meat. Globally, per gram of edible protein, beef and lamb use around 20 times the land and generate around 20 times the GHGs of plant-based proteins. Affordable plant-based products that mimic the experience of eating beef could reduce growth in global beef consumption, while still satisfying meat-lovers. Fortunately, companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are already making headlines by creating plant-based “beef” that looks, sizzles, tastes and even bleeds like the real thing.

  2. Extended shelf lives. About one-third of food is lost or wasted between the farm and the fork. Fruits and vegetables are a common food item wasted in more developed markets. One breakthrough to address this is the emergence of inexpensive methods that slow the ripening of produce; companies are already investigating a variety of natural compounds to do so. For example, Apeel Sciences has an array of extremely thin spray-on films that inhibit bacterial growth and retain water in fruit. Others include Nanology and Bluapple, whose technologies delay decomposition.

  3. Anti-gas for cows. About a third of all GHGs from agricultural production (excluding land-use change) come from “enteric” methane, released as cow “burps.” Several research groups and companies are working on feed compounds that suppress the formation of methane in cows’ stomachs. DSM has a product called 3-NOP that reduces these methane emissions by 30 percent in tests, and does not appear to have health or environmental side effects.

  4. Compounds to keep nitrogen in the soil. About 20 percent of GHGs from agricultural production are related to nitrogen from fertilizer and manure on crops and pastures. The majority of these emissions come from the formation of nitrous oxide, as microorganisms transfer nitrogen from one chemical form to another. Compounds that prevent these changes, including coatings on fertilizers and so-called “nitrification inhibitors,” can reduce nitrogen losses and increase the amount of nitrogen taken up by plants, leading to lower emissions and less water pollution from fertilizer runoff. Without a regulatory push, research into such technologies has stagnated, but great potential remains. Some new compounds have emerged in just the past year.

  5. Nitrogen-absorbing crops. Another way to chip away at nitrous oxide emissions is to develop crop varieties that absorb more nitrogen and/or inhibit nitrification. Researchers have identified traits to inhibit nitrification in some varieties of all major grain crops, which others can now build upon through crop breeding.

  6. Low-methane rice. Around 15 percent of emissions from agricultural production come from methane-producing microorganisms in rice paddies. Researchers have identified some common rice varieties that emit less methane than others, and they’ve bred one experimental strain that reduces methane emissions by 30 percent in the laboratory. Despite this promise, there is no consistent effort in any country to breed and encourage the uptake of low-methane rice varieties.

  7. Using CRISPR to boost yields. Two broad items on the menu for a sustainable food future involve boosting yields on existing cropland, and producing more milk and meat on existing grazing land. One way to boost crop yields sustainably (without over-application of fertilizers or over-extraction of irrigation water) is to unlock traits in crop genes that increase yields. CRISPR technology, which enables more precise turning on and off of genes, has the potential to be revolutionary in this regard.

  8. High-yield oil palm. Dramatic growth in demand for palm oil — an ingredient found in everything from shampoo to cookies — has been driving deforestation in Southeast Asia for decades, and now threatens forests in Africa and Latin America. One way to reduce this threat is to breed and plant oil palm trees with 2-4 times the production per hectare of conventional trees. Potential for higher-yielding oil palm trees already exists: The company PT Smart, for instance, has a variety with triple the current average yield of Indonesia’s oil palm trees. These high-yield varieties need to be used in new plantations and when farmers restock current plantations with new trees (typically done every 20 or more years).

  9. Algae-based fish feeds. Another element of a sustainable food future is to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks. As the global fish catch has peaked, fish farming, or aquaculture, has grown to meet world fish demand. However, aquaculture can increase pressure on the small, wild fish species used as feed ingredients for larger, farmed fish. One technological innovation to circumvent this challenge is to create substitute feeds using algae or oilseeds that contain the omega-3 fatty acids found in wild fish-based oils. Some companies are moving to produce algae-based aquaculture feeds, and researchers have created a variety of canola that contains omega-3s.

  10. Solar-powered fertilizers. The production of nitrogen-based fertilizers uses vast quantities of fossil fuels and generates significant emissions, roughly 85 percent of which result from the production of hydrogen to blend with nitrogen. Many have invested in solar energy to produce hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles, but similar technologies can also help produce low-carbon fertilizers. Pilot plants are under construction in Australia.

Rapidly deploying technology for a sustainable food future

Despite their potential, none of these measures are moving forward at adequate speed and scale. Research funding for agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation is miniscule and needs to be increased, in part by making better use of the $600 billion in existing public support each year for agriculture globally.

In addition, although many of the technologies above have the potential to save money even in the near term, many cost more than their conventional counterparts today. Increasing their uptake will require not only more public research funds, but also flexible regulations that give private companies stronger incentives to innovate. For example, in areas where technologies are underdeveloped — such as compounds that reduce enteric methane — governments could commit to requiring the use of these compounds if a product achieves a certain level of cost-effectiveness in mitigation (such as $25 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent). As another example, governments could require fertilizer companies to increasingly blend in compounds that reduce nitrogen loss.

The good news is, for virtually every type of advancement needed in the food system, small groups of scientists with limited budgets have already identified promising opportunities. Today’s plant-based burgers that taste like real beef were developed and brought to market in fewer than 10 years.

Feeding a growing world population in the face of climate change and resource constraints is an enormous challenge. The technological innovations listed above aren’t the only ones the food system needs — and of course, we won’t solve the challenge through technology alone. However, just as in other sectors, such as energy and transport, technological innovation is an essential ingredient of a sustainable future.

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San Francisco, California-based regenerative food tech company Treasure8 is seeking funds to help propel it on its mission — to revolutionize how food is managed along supply chains, and address the global challenges of food waste, nutrition and climate change along the way.

“The world is waking up to the fact that we’re cooking ourselves — there is a need for solutions that are not some incremental growth, year after year; they need to come right out the gate as a revolutionary, step-change function,” Timothy Childs, Treasure8’s CEO, told Sustainable Brands in a recent interview.

Childs — who previously founded Berkeley, Calif.-based conscious chocolate company TCHO Chocolate in 2006 — founded Treasure8 more than six years ago, though it has only recently gone public with what the team believes is a game-changing model. At the center is Treasure8’s core technology — a patented dehydration tool, built in cooperation with the USDA and UC Davis, that they call the Sauna, which can fully dehydrate fruits and vegetables without stripping them of nutrients, using far less energy than existing technologies. It also, as I verified during a visit to the company’s facility on Treasure Island, produces far superior dried snacks than what you’ll currently find on shelves across the US.

Image credit: Treasure8

Food waste has been a key issue for those in the agricultural industry for some time now, since it was first recognized as an issue earlier this decade. The figures are staggering: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 1.3 billion metric tons of food is wasted globally each year. Here in the United States, an estimated 26 percent of all food produced is wasted. Moreover, if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter in the world after China and the US, due to methane emissions produced from food in landfills and transportation emissions from wasted food.

Treasure8’s approach to making a dent in the issue is sourcing what would otherwise be wasted produce from production facilities, for redemption as nutritious, dehydrated food snacks — along with an array of other products, including pet food, nutraceuticals and biofuel.

“There is a major problem, and we need to do everything in our power to continue to work as hard as we can to make an impact, and make a difference,” Childs said. “We’ve been working on a systemic, end-to-end approach that can scale globally and can make a significant impact in a short time.”

The good news is that the food waste issue has gone mainstream, and Treasure 8 is just one of many startups and nonprofits working in this area. Others focus on a specific sector — for example, companies such as Imperfect Produce works solely with farmers who can’t sell ugly-looking fruits and vegetables, while Olio has developed an app that connects scavengers with bakeries, restaurants or grocery stores that have unsold, soon-to-spoil goods.

While those efforts are making real, meaningful impacts, tackling the scale of the global food waste problem and its impact on the climate means we need radical transformation of how the global food production and distribution system is run. That’s where Treasure 8 aims to make a difference.

“It’s not like we’re taking some leftover waste from a restaurant and making a pie that day,” Childs said. “We’re doing something that’s gotta have buy-in from output sources, and buy-in from the input sources that works through the system.”

The true potential of Treasure 8 lies not in the crispiness of the apple and beet chips that its dryers produce, but its ability to scale rapidly. Its systems are energy-efficient, compact and can be adapted for a wide variety of supply chains. They also can produce uniform outputs, something that is critical for really shifting the global food system, which relies on stable sources and reliable, quality products.

Image credit: Treasure8

Treasure8 also believes it can have a positive impact for nutrition — another global challenge. Because its technology allows for a higher percentage of nutrients to remain within food during the drying process, it could be used to produce healthy products. Its trial products reflect this: Ground Rules Chips — organic, one-ingredient fruit and vegetable chips; and the vegan One Smart Cookie — which includes 25 percent veggies by volume. Both, of course, use food waste as key ingredients.

Currently, Treasure 8 is seeking funding to expand its model and beginning to work with more companies to use its technology to reduce food waste; its goal is not to grow to sell lots of products, but to co-manufacture CPG products or ingredients, or spin them off as separate entities — also potentially licensing or leasing the Sauna technology to other companies. Getting to the level where the company can make a real dent in reducing food waste will be a challenge, one that the company is ready for.

“I love this company and how it is, and the promise of what it can do continues to unfold every day,” Childs said. Still, he sees the real test coming with how the company scales. “Are our systems global yet? No. Until that is rolling on every major continent, and without me having to do a lot of the lift, I’m not going to be satisfied, frankly.”

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Eight million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans each year, and countless studies on its impact and unsettling images are spurring consumers and NGOs to push for action. As a result, businesses and governments worldwide have implemented bans on single-use plastic items, such as straws and bags. But do bans actually address the plastic pollution issue? Unfortunately, no — as an industry we need to do more.

While plastic has many valuable uses we rely on — from creating medical devices and safety helmets to food packaging that prevents waste — there are occasions when other materials are more effective for the job in hand. So, how do we strike a balance? How do we combat the rise in plastic waste without taking plastic products away from those who need them most for everyday living? We can and should focus on driving a circular economy — by recycling our plastic waste and innovating to repurpose and reuse it.

Driving a circular economy

We currently live in a primarily linear economy, where the goods we use every day are manufactured, sold, used and then discarded as waste. To move away from this wastefulness, we need to transition to an economy that redesigns, recycles, reuses and remanufactures to keep materials at their highest-value use for as long as possible, and out of our oceans.

The good news is, industry is already taking steps to advance a circular economy globally by developing innovative technologies to improve recyclability and designing in reusability and recycled content into products, while building the infrastructure required to responsibly manage waste where it is needed most.

For example, Dow and other companies continue to evaluate advanced technologies such as feedstock recycling — which, if successful, will enable more waste to be recycled and ultimately enable plastics to be recycled back to its basic molecules. This capability would reduce the need for additional fossil fuel extraction by using waste plastics as a feedstock.

Innovation in action

As part of Dow’s 2025 sustainability goals, I’m proud that we are doing our part by developing initiatives that convert plastic waste into next-generation building materials, including plastic schools. We are partnering with Colombian nonprofit Conceptos Plásticos to build schools in Colombia using bricks made of plastic waste — to date, we have built three schools using 12 tons of plastic waste, and plan to build 15 by the end of 2019. We also started the Hefty® EnergyBag® recovery initiative which collects hard-to-recycle plastics and converts them into valuable resources. By 2018, we’d collected more than 176,500 bags and diverted more than 115 tons of plastics from landfills, equivalent to roughly 92 million snack-sized chip bags.

Beyond Dow, companies, innovators and entrepreneurs are taking significant action to explore opportunities to repurpose, reimagine and redefine how we use and dispose of plastic. Here are three notable examples:

  • TerraCycle’s Loop platform, unveiled earlier this year, is developing circular solutions for hard-to-recycle materials and is the first of its kind to offer hundreds of name-brand products in reusable and refillable packaging. UPS will deliver the products in reusable shipping bags and transport the bags to a cleaning facility once done, where they will be sanitized and recycled. In addition to founding investors Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, major global brands such as PepsiCo, Unilever and The Body Shop are among the initial partners that have designed new packaging for Loop.

  • Circulate Capital is an impact-focused investment management firm dedicated to financing innovation, companies and infrastructure that prevent the flow of plastic waste into the world's oceans while advancing the circular economy. In late 2018, it announced over US$100 million in expected funding to combat ocean plastic from major brands, including PepsiCo, P&G, Dow, Danone, Unilever and The Coca-Cola Company.

  • Norwegian startup Empower uses a blockchain-enabled system to encourage customers to reduce plastic pollution. Through technology, the company records the waste brought to collection centers to reward those who bring it in — for every batch of plastic donated, the person is rewarded $1. Founder Wilhelm Myrer believes that the system — which is based on the philosophy and success of the Norwegian plastic bottle deposit system — can be used in the industrialized world, but will be particularly effective in emerging markets, where he says tokenized rewards can be a catalyst for engagement.

What these three examples highlight, along with Dow’s own efforts, is that innovative solutions to reduce plastic waste come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one consistent goal. The plastic waste issue has attracted significant global attention as major brands from around the world are investing their time and resources into finding solutions.

Looking ahead, I anticipate that, as researchers continue to unveil the extent of plastic litter, we will see a rise in the number of new technologies and innovations. As an industry, we need to welcome new ideas and collaboration to continue to create solutions that make a greater impact in reducing the plastic waste infiltrating our oceans. It will take all of us — business, government, industry and NGOs — to create solutions and work together to solve one of today’s biggest environmental crises.

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The Zika virus that ravaged its way through South America, and up into parts of Florida and Texas, in 2016 had a devastating social and economic impact. The virus was linked to birth defects in thousands of Brazilian newborns, whose mothers were infected while pregnant.

World Health Organization estimates suggest up to four million people were infected in Latin America and the Caribbean by early 2017. Other figures argue that up to 117 million people, including 1.5 million pregnant women, worldwide were infected by the mosquito-borne disease.

According to the United Nations, the epidemic saw nations incurring huge direct and indirect costs of up to US$18 billion over three years; tor those suffering the resultant microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the cost will be, of course, far greater — children born with microcephaly face a 20 percent probability of dying in their first year, with a life expectancy of just 35 years beyond their first 12 months.

Zika is not alone in striking fear across nations and controlling the spread of disease can cost a fortune. In Asia, as much as US$307 million year is spent on controlling vector-borne disease. In South America, close to US$1 billion dollars is spent controlling Zika and Dengue.

Such statistics drove data scientist Dhesi Raja and his computer engineer co-founder, Rainier Mallol, to develop a solution that would drastically change the way countries and their health practitioners deal with deadly outbreaks of disease.

The two met during their graduate studies at NASA in California. They both obtained a scholarship with Google for a graduate studies program, during which they came up with the idea of revolutionizing public health and disease-control using artificial intelligence.

“Existing work related to the control of infectious diseases is passive and reactive — and the analysis of outbreak data is currently relying on statistical methods,” Mallol says.

He explains that available Zika and Dengue data are limited to time, location and accumulated cases. Other important details — such as weather, population density, elevation, vegetation and geographical variables that could be crucial to disease outbreak — are just not monitored or predicted in a dynamic or real-time manner.

"While we have a number of vector control tools available in combatting Zika and Dengue, their effective deployment relies on accurately interpreting available data to identify the exact spot where and when such activity should take place,” he says. “Such interpretation is heavily skill-dependent — and that made us realize that there is a need to develop a smart machine, driven by artificial intelligence to help predict and control deadly outbreaks.”

The result of their work is the AIME (Artificial Intelligence in Medical Epidemiology) platform, a medtech app that is able to predict when and where such diseases will hit, up to three months in advance — in fact, it can geo-locate them to within a 400-metre radius with an accuracy of 86.37 percent, in real time.

Image credit: AIME/Instagram

AIME’s initial Dengue Outbreak Prediction platform is the result of two-and-a-half years of epidemiological research, and a few months of machine-learning analysis. The solution incorporates a huge amount of epidemiology, weather and geographical data — as well as data on vegetation, population density and previous outbreaks — and mixes it with machine-learning capabilities in order to predict, geo-locate and determine future outbreaks.

In effect, AIME optimizes data-driven decision-making within public health organisations. This is especially effective in poorer and more remote areas, where expertise for epidemiology data interpretation is limited, at best. The technology is said to cut the time it takes for health personnel to analyse data by 65 percent.

It is still early days for the technology being widely used, but the company assisted Brazilian NGO VivaRio during the 2016 Rio Olympics to highlight potential Zika and Dengue hotspots; and it has also been deployed in the state of Penang, Malaysia, where since early 2018, cases of Dengue have fallen by 42 percent.

“With our platform, we can aid in the prevention of diseases, with the ultimate goal of removing the chance of epidemics and eliminating viruses,” Mallol adds. “Predicting Dengue is just our first step. Eventually, we will expand to other epidemic diseases such as Tuberculosis, Malaria and even HIV/AIDS.

“We are not sure if our action will save lives, but we are certainly sure inaction kills.”

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This week, Taylor & Francis — one of the world’s largest academic publishers — introduced its new Sustainable Development Goals Online platform. The site features an online library of over 12,000 articles and chapters — covering some of the world’s biggest ongoing challenges, corresponding to the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — as well as a selection of materials to help lecturers teach sustainability and enhance students’ satisfaction with their institutions.

This new venture from the UK-based publishing giant provides a platform in which to engage higher education students, their tutors and university researchers in learning about and addressing the issues set out in the SDGs — which aim to eliminate issues including poverty, inequality, climate impacts and conflict; and improve access to quality education, clean water and energy, and decent work, to name a few.

Developed alongside various UN bodies, SDGO provides an interdisciplinary collection of digital content — including Taylor & Francis’ books and journals across all disciplines, themed around the SDGs — as well as teaching and learning materials, including presentations, videos, case studies, teaching guides and lesson plans. The aim of the new platform is to enable students and tutors to deliver the change they want throughout their careers and lives. According to a global survey of 1,800 recent university graduates, 96 percent expect to be involved in sustainability in some way during their careers. 70 percent of respondents also believe that sustainability should be covered by their university course. Those students believe their university should teach them how to apply the principles of sustainability in their careers, equipping them to be effective advocates for the changes that they know needs to happen throughout their lifetime — and they are putting pressure on universities to meet their expectations.

This pressure means that the momentum for sustainable education is building across the world.

While business momentum behind the SDGs has been largely steady, with a steady stream of tools and platforms emerging to help companies meet goals aligned with the Goals, efforts to engage tomorrow's business leaders have only really emerged recently — a series of episodes of "Thomas the Tank Engine," which began in 2018; and Sekisui Chemical's SDGs Academy, launched earlier this year, are media outlets introducing the idea to children. Harnessing the energy and brainpower of the student population behind the SDGs, Taylor & Francis is looking to help build the next generation of leaders who have sustainable development hard-wired into their sensibilities, with its launch of SDGO.

“Both students and funding bodies are setting the bar on sustainable development for universities ever higher,” said Annie Callanan, CEO of Taylor & Francis. “Part of our response at Taylor & Francis is SDGO, a platform that will give academics across disciplines access to the knowledge and materials which will help them provide the teaching their students believe they need to succeed. And it will give their students the ability to provide their best positive contribution to sustainable development.”

The SDGs were launched by the UN in 2015, as a 17-point, 15-year, multitrillion-dollar call to arms for the world’s nations to fix global problems. Though some notable progress has been made, the SDGs risk being stalled or derailed by populist political agenda issues. Jonas Haertle — from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in Switzerland — says that “to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the coming years, we need forward-thinking and responsible leadership, underpinned with education and research.” He adds: “The SDGO collection from Taylor & Francis is a significant contribution to that underpinning. Now, more than ever, we need to take action to ensure a truly sustainable future for all.”

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Business as a force for good is not a “nice concept” for “good brands” — it’s a necessary shift if we are going to save our planet. If this altruistic fact isn’t enough to convince you to start taking action, consider your bottom line: This is what consumers (otherwise known as people) are calling for. 

There’s no business on a dead planet.

A recent open letter addressed from Extinction Rebellion to the advertising industry reads:

“If you don’t make this change, consumers will insist you do. Look at the streets of London in the last month. People are beginning to see where the problems lie, and soon they will see you.”

Two years ago, I left my job and founded The Humblebrag, with the mandate to support and amplify the voices of change-makers. I wanted to support companies to understand why they should take a bold stance on societal issues, and support business leaders to amplify their voice. 

The business case for doing good

Speaking to a room full of creatives in 2017.

As I’ve moved away from my niche — and found myself in bigger and bigger boardrooms — I’ve been called on to fight harder to prove the business case for purpose. To appeal to the skeptics (of which, surprisingly, there are still many), I usually outline insights such as:

But this line of reasoning is no longer enough. More than “young people care about this planet, and form their opinions about your brand based on your actions and views,” the time has come to be bolder and braver, and call it as it is. As Extinction Rebellion state in their letter to the advertising industry: 

“You have an extraordinary moment to be on the right side of history. That’s not something that can get postponed to Q3. It needs action right now."

The Creative Climate Disclosure 

Image credit: The Creative Climate Disclosure

This week, this industry responded. Signifying a bold move away from conversations around “purpose” to activism, change agency Futerra built on the #creativesforclimate movement and launched the Creative Climate Disclosure. I signed up, and made our agency the first in The Netherlands to join. 

More than committing us to not working on any fossil fuel briefs — and disclose income based on industry and high-carbon clients — it sends a message to all, and this industry in particular, that we too declare a climate crisis and commit our creativity to this cause

This is not the time to brag — it’s the time to be humble. Collective action is what we need to spur meaningful change, and this means joining forces. It means supporting already established movements such as B Corp, and joining initiatives such as #CreativesforClimate and signing this commitment.  

The role of the private sector

Business as a force for good is not a “nice concept” for “good brands”; it’s the responsibility of the private sector. People often mutter that governments and civil society should be “doing more” — having worked in NGOs and then deep in the world of sustainability, I’ve seen firsthand the limits of both to drive change. 

Money is power, and the private sector is an incredibly powerful force that has to take responsibility if we are going to tackle this challenge. As Xavier Rees, CEO of Havas London — the first advertising agency to become a certified B Corp — told me:

“Quite frankly, this is about businesses taking responsibility for what they do and who they are. Yes, governments have a key role to play in improving society, but so too does the private sector.”

Declaring an emergency

Extinction Rebellion have made it clear that one-off initiatives, CSR, pro-bono work or planting trees is not going to be enough. The letter reads:

“No, making a small campaign to give up drinking from plastic straws is not going to cut it. Neither is doing some pro-bono for an anti-palm oil initiative. Here’s the thing you can do: Declare a climate & ecological emergency and act accordingly. Persuade your clients and their audiences to do the same.”

In the few days since the Creative Climate Disclosure has been signed, criticism has already mounted saying ‘it’s not good enough.’ Ed Gillespie, author of Only Planet, called it “baby steps” and wrote in The Ecologist that “we need to go further and confront our obsession with economic growth.” And he’s not wrong.

A report from the IPCC has already confirmed humanity's probable failure to stop warming short of the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold. A report from May outlines that one million species are on track to go extinct due to human-caused environmental degradation. And still more new research predicts that by 2050, London will have a climate similar to that of Barcelona today, Seattle will feel like San Francisco, and Madrid will feel like Marrakech

While it may only be “baby steps,” we need more actors to join us in taking them. Because, as Gillespie points out, “Business as usual is not an option; it’s a collective death sentence.” 

Commit your creativity to ‘the biggest brief’ this sector has ever known. Join us: https://www.creativeandclimate.com.

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The innovation co-led by Dr Tomaso Ceccarelli of Wageningen Environmental Research and Dr Elias Eyasu Fantahun of Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia will transform productivity and drastically improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in food-insecure areas across the country. I spoke with them to learn more.

In a nutshell, what is the innovation?

Innovation Mapping for Food Security, or IM4FS, is a landscape mapping approach that will combine data and information from local stakeholders to recommend ‘best-fit’ combinations of crops, farming practices and conditions. Farmers can then implement these changes, with support from local planners or extension workers, to help them reach their full yield potential and boost food security in the region.

IM4FS builds on the strength of the CASCAPE project — which combines data, GIS mapping and stakeholder engagement for improved agricultural productivity. IM4FS takes all of this but enhances it with a scenario-planning functionality vital for addressing food-insecure areas. This brings a more dynamic and interactive tool to provide simulations and aid stakeholder engagement.

Does anything like IM4FS already exist?

We believe that both CASCAPE and IM4FS are unique. If you consider the existing approaches to land evaluation, they do not typically introduce stakeholder engagement at various stages to inform and validate the proposed actions. This information gathered from farmers, extension workers and other local experts — on current conditions, challenges and expectations — is combined with social, economic and environmental data and fed into the GIS-based tool to produce the ‘recommendation maps.’

The mapping model is also unique because it is dynamic. Through the IM4FS user interface, the best-fit recommendations can respond to the specific information or questions fed into it, making it a valuable scenario-planning tool for these stakeholders. They can simulate which interventions should be done in which regions, and how — for instance, where the most suitable areas and conditions exist in the country to introduce malt barley and the necessary fertilizer or infrastructure requirements.

Image credit: Olam

Plugging Ethiopia’s ‘yield gap’ is the rationale behind this agricultural innovation — can you tell us more?

Ethiopia has the potential to be self-sufficient, but because of various constraints —especially poor farming practices, low-quality seeds, pest and disease, and inefficiencies — productivity is poor and the country relies heavily on food imports. This is absurd when you think the country is the second-largest in Africa for arable land and has the potential to be self-sufficient.

What is promising is the Ethiopian government’s target to double productivity, but its policies apply to the whole country. The huge diversity — climate, geological and social — means that change needs to happen at the regional level. For example, a farming practice that works for one farmer may not work for another; and a certain crop variety that’s suited to a particular location won’t grow in different soil conditions elsewhere. This is where we come in — with a solution involving local stakeholders to shape specific agricultural innovations for a given area.

What does this mean for the smallholders who need to implement these new crop varieties and practices?

Improving food security means making sure it’s available at household level. We are targeting this innovation in areas where millions of farmers rely on food hand-outs, but with the right agricultural interventions, could be self-sufficient.

Since we began the CASCAPE programme in 2016, this evidence-based approach to applying best-fit combinations of crop and farming practices has tripled wheat yields and doubled yields of teff and faba bean. For faba bean — an important and often only protein source for these farmers — the increase is mainly because we’ve been able to identify the need for and introduce more disease-resistant varieties.

For the 200,000 farmers currently involved in the programme, these increases mean they can now grow sufficient food to feed their families and earn a living.

Image credit: Olam

How do you feel about winning the Prize?

This is the result of many years of hard work, and it gives us a great morale boost to continue working with farmers who are struggling and help them reach their potential.

It is really motivating to work with local researchers and other parties to develop smart solutions to tackle something as devastating as hunger. Now we have the opportunity, thanks to the Olam Prize, to strengthen this link between researchers and regional planners, so we can reach many more farmers with this mapping in other food-insecure regions of the country.

What are your plans for the funding?

IM4FS will take these “best-fit practices” and scale them up in food-insecure areas, making them work for many more farmers.

We’ll use the Prize to roll-out the mapping at a regional level, hosting stakeholder workshops and in-situ data collection by extension workers and other local staff. This will help strengthen engagement between our researchers, planners and farmers. It will also fund the development of the GIS-based tool behind IM4FS, to make it more dynamic so it can generate quantitative information — like specific limitations (poor soil quality, access to inputs); the required measures to overcome these (fertilizers, rural infrastructure); and expected volumes, once the correct interventions are applied.

With this functionality, our aim is for regional stakeholders — government institutions, local planners — to use IM4FS for scenario planning, to scale up agricultural innovations across the country to solve food insecurity and improve livelihoods.

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Choosing an Honest beverage may seem like a relatively simple decision.

But the seemingly small action can actually make a big impact — not only in the wellbeing of those who enjoy these delicious lower- or no-sugar organic beverages, but also in the lives and communities of the supplier farmers who help produce them.

That’s the message behind the Honest brand’s new “small decision. BIG impact” campaign, which showcases the brand’s purpose-driven DNA and longstanding mission to democratize organics and promote economic opportunity — as well as its expanding portfolio.

“We’re witnessing the rise of the citizen consumer,” said Honest co-founder and TeaEO Emeritus Seth Goldman. “People today want to express the power they have to vote with their wallets by supporting brands they respect and trust, and that share their values. They also want to feel like they’re making a difference, but don’t always believe the many everyday choices they make actually count. This campaign reminds them that every time they choose to drink an Honest beverage, they’re choosing to make an impact.”

A series of short films uses stop-motion animation to bring to life Honest’s Fair Trade Certified™ ingredient sourcing practices and show how they benefit farming communities, and highlight the fact that Honest Kids has half the sugar of leading kids’ juice drinks and are sweetened only with fruit juice.

Honest | small decision. BIG impact. | Trademark - YouTube

The creative will run on streaming media platforms, and additional social and digital content will extend the #smalldecisionbigimpact message across Honest’s channels.

“Our ‘small decision. BIG impact.’ campaign gives Honest the opportunity to talk about the breadth of our portfolio — from bottled teas to organic youth juice drinks to lemonades and beyond,” said Clare Verdery, general manager of the Honest brand. “We’re showing consumers how their small choice of an Honest beverage — no matter which one it is — can create a ripple effect of change.”

If it's not organic, it's not Honest.

All Honest products are certified organic and Honest sources Fair Trade Certified ingredients when possible — so, every time Honest purchases Fair Trade Certified ingredients including cane sugar and tea leaves, supplier partners around the world receive extra money known as Fair Trade premium dollars.

Since 2005, Honest says it has contributed more than $2.5 million in Fair Trade premiums that have been reinvested back into supplier communities to provide clean water, school supplies, tuition, bicycles, healthcare, farming equipment and much more. Many premium funds support farmer education initiatives such as professional management programs and technical/agricultural training. Communities vote on how to spend these funds based on need.

Up your impact

As part of the campaign, Honest is installing immersive vending machines in its hometown of Bethesda, Md., as well as in New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, to further demonstrate the impact people can have just by choosing an Honest beverage. Consumers who stop by one of the machines from July 16 through Aug. 30 can learn about the projects Honest’s partners at Fair Trade USA™ and Organic Farming Research Foundation support, vote which ones they think provide the biggest impact, and have the opportunity to “up their impact” and donate a tad more by increasing their transaction amount. All proceeds from sales of Honest Tea at these machines will be donated to Fair Trade USA, and all proceeds from the sale of Honest Kids beverages will support the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

“Research shows that most of our consumers don’t fully understand how the fair trade model works,” Goldman said. “By featuring real examples of what Fair Trade Community Development Funds have supported — such as new bicycles and school roofs — we’re able to demonstrate the process and its impact in a simple, tangible way."

The campaign also “connects the dots” across the full Honest portfolio, Goldman added, and positions Honest as an organic “masterbrand” with something for everyone.

Honest’s partnership with Coca-Cola has expanded distribution of its organic products to more than 150,000 retail and foodservice locations across the United States, and more than 40 European countries.

“It’s so exciting to see the brand flourish in international markets and not only get such a warm welcome overseas,” Goldman concluded, “but also to see Coke’s continued adoption of Honest as a platform for organics.”

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A major new report assessing the climate performance of 274 of the world’s highest-emitting publicly listed companies finds that almost half (46 percent) do not adequately consider climate risk in operational decision-making. A quarter (25 percent) do not report their own emissions at all, undermining a key recommendation of the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD).

The study was carried out for the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. It uses FTSE Russell data to analyse leading companies in 14 carbon-intensive sectors such as Oil and Gas, Electric Utilities, Automotive, Aviation and Steel. These sectors account for 41 percent of global emissions from publicly listed companies worldwide.

TPI is backed by investors with $14 trillion of assets including pension funds such as CalPERS and Environment Agency Pension Fund, and asset managers such as Legal & General Investment Management, BNP Paribas, Aberdeen Standard and Robeco. This report builds on TPI’s first ‘State of Transition’ report, released a year ago.

Professor Simon Dietz, co-Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and lead author of the report, said: “It’s over three years since the Paris Agreement was signed and this research shows the corporate sector is improving its climate planning and performance, but not fast enough. Cutting through the noise we can see that barely 12 percent of companies plan to reduce emissions at the rate required to keep global warming below 2°C.”

The report assesses companies on ‘Management Quality’ related to climate, but also goes further and analyses ‘Carbon Performance,’ in terms of current and planned GHG emissions. A total of 160 companies are analysed on Carbon Performance and the research finds that only 20 companies, or one in eight, are aligned with a pathway that would keep global warming below 2°C.

“TPI’s research shows that we need many more investors to engage with big emitters across all sectors of the economy to ensure companies are setting emissions targets consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Engagement is starting to show results, but not at the pace needed,” said Adam Matthews, co-Chair of TPI and Director of Ethics & Engagement at Church of England Pensions Board. “A failure to grasp the seriousness of the warning from this TPI report, and to recognise the slow pace of corporate progress, will directly undermine our ability as pension funds to manage the financial risks within our portfolio for our beneficiaries.”

“Today’s research shows clear leaders and laggards emerging within sectors from airlines to aluminium — and that gives investors an investment-relevant decision to make today,” said Faith Ward, co-chair of TPI on behalf of the Environment Agency Pension Fund, part of the Brunel Pension Partnership. “As the effects of climate change accelerate we can expect to see more capital flow away from those companies that bury their head in the sand, and towards those companies aligning with a 2°C pathway.”

“The failure of 25 percent of high-emitting companies to report their own emissions is putting investors in a Catch-22 situation on disclosure,” Ward added. “The UK is one of several countries moving to make climate risk reporting by asset owners mandatory, yet without emissions data from a quarter of the high-emitting companies, that request will be impossible to deliver.”

The report findings also include:

•       46 percent of companies are not adequately integrating climate change into their business decisions.

•       25 percent of companies do not disclose their own carbon emissions.

•       Among the companies assessed for the second consecutive year, 35 of 130 companies (27 percent) improved how they integrate climate change into their business decisions.

•       84 percent of companies do not disclose an internal carbon price; and 86 percent are yet to undertake and disclose climate scenario planning — a critical part of TCFD reporting.

•       Only 16 percent of companies assessed for their current and planned GHG emissions are aligned with the 2°C benchmark. 

•       Only 12.5 percent of companies assessed for their current and planned GHG emissions are aligned with the most ambitious below 2°C benchmark. These include German utility giant E.ON, which in 2014 shifted its entire energy portfolio to renewables; Spanish utility Iberdrola; Stora Enso, a Finnish leader in renewable packaging materials; and US utility Edison International.

 “The clock is ticking on irreversible climate change. The fact only 1 in 8 of the highest-emitting firms are responding at anywhere near the pace required is an urgent challenge to investors. Investors themselves need to adopt an emergency footing, otherwise the window to secure the change we need will be gone.” 

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The outdoor apparel industry has apparently taken its role as stewards of the environment in which it plays to heart, as illustrated by a series of remarkable recent moves on the sustainability front — including the release of an industry-first transparency report from Icebreaker; and the textile sector’s first-ever Planetary Boundaries Assessment, from Houdini Sportswear; as well as the world's first climate-positive outdoor footwear, from Icebug. And the progress continues ...

ALLIED Feather & Down relaunches TrackMyDown platform for consumer and retailer education, traceability

Image credit: TrackMyDown

ALLIED Feather & Down — creators of industry-leading responsible down sourcing is announcing the relaunch of its proprietary TrackMyDown.com website, an educational transparency tool designed to provide consumers and brands with all of the information they may need about the down lining their jacket or sleeping bag.

After helping to create the now globally recognized Responsible Down Standard (RDS) within its supply chain — in collaboration with The North Face — and gifting it to the Textile Exchange in 2014, ALLIED wanted to take traceability in the global down insulation supply chain to the next level. The new TrackMyDown platform provides a more robust user experience for consumers at point of purchase and at home. The down used in each product will also now be more easily tracked directly through partner brands’ own websites with seamless integration of a new TrackMyDown widget. 

“TrackMyDown was built as a way to turn the down jacket, sleeping bag, comforter or pillow inside out — allowing access to critical performance parameters and additional information that were never known, thanks to a notoriously opaque supply chain,” said Daniel Uretsky, President at ALLIED Feather & Down. “Down has traditionally been a generic ingredient with, at best, a fill power’ rating to communicate quality to the consumer.

“The overall quality of the down inside a garment is incredibly complex and much more than just fill power, however. Most consumers don’t even know what fill power is, and as garment design and construction change, fill power becomes an increasingly less important indicator of quality or performance. We thought it necessary to develop a tool that could provide some of this important information and engage the potential purchaser of a down product to help them make more informed decisions.”

Founded in Vernon, Calif. in 1987, the family-owned and -operated ALLIED has earned a reputation as the largest, most reliable and most responsible supplier of raw material in the industry. Through the creation of the RDS and TrackMyDown, ALLIED is committed to safeguarding the welfare of animals while protecting the environment.

“Yes, it is incredibly important to know where your down came from in regards to animal welfare, but there is much, much more that goes into producing high-performing and sustainable insulation than simply sourcing — and nobody is communicating that,” Uretsky adds. “We always saw the RDS and other standards as simply the foundation for the real work, communicating the complexities and positive environmental benefits to the consumer. But this couldn’t be done without such robust standards in place, and is why we timed the initial launch of TrackMyDown with the first-season, RDS-certified products were hitting the shelves.”

TrackMyDown was born in Fall 2015 with five partner brands: Peak Performance, Feathered Friends, Montane, Daniadown and Merrell. ALLIED says there are now roughly 80 globally recognized partner brands from the outdoor, lifestyle and fashion industries using the tool, with more than 100 brands on board for Fall 2019 product lines — meaning, most prominent active lifestyle brands will be using TrackMyDown.com hang tags on every down-insulated garment at retail, creating powerful direct-to-consumer connections and brand awareness.

As the tool has grown, ALLIED says it has looked at the user experience and what information customers find most valuable. An average visit to the site lasting over 1:30 since inception, shows that users of the site want to learn more, which is why the company now thinks of TrackMyDown as less of a traceability tool and more of an education tool. 

“There is a lot of misinformation about down in the media. TrackMyDown seeks to both assure the consumer that the material has been responsibly sourced, and also that the material has been sustainably processed, and shows the exact cleanliness and content of each lot,” Uretsky says. “When you see consumers hesitating to purchase down products — arguably some of the most environmentally friendly outerwear pieces available — simply because they are unclear of where it comes from or do not understand how sustainable it can be, we realized it was time to reinvent consumer traceability and education in our industry.”

Arc'teryx climbs into recommerce with Rock Solid Used Gear

Image credit: Arc'teryx

Meanwhile, Arc'teryx — the Vancouver-based design company specializing in technical, high-performance apparel, outerwear and equipment — has taken another step in its ongoing commitment to sustainable design: Following in the footsteps of fellow forward-thinking outdoor brands REI and The North Face, Arc'teryx has launched its own recommerce program, Rock Solid Used Gear. Harkening back to the company's original name when it was founded over 30 years ago, Rock Solid Used Gear is a repurposing hub designed to keep excellent products in service as long as possible — and to lighten the company's environmental footprint.

Rock Solid Used Gear - YouTube

Made possible by the company's expert problem solvers who design gear to outlive its users' adventures, Arc'teryx — whose down-filled products also adhere to ALLIED’s Responsible Down Standard — will now buy back used gear in good condition, clean and repair products with plenty of life left in them and resell the items at a lower cost. The prolonged lifecycle allows customers to access supremely technical gear for less while also minimizing the brand's environmental footprint.

"At Arc'teryx, we are more than designers — we are agents for change, leaning into hard problems and applying a process and ethos that creates possibility," said Arc'teryx General Manager and President Jon Hoerauf. "We are framing sustainability as a design problem. Strictly focusing on building leading gear is no longer an option for us — we must apply the same design ethos to solving problems of broader social and environmental relevance. Great gear should be able to last through multiple users, and Rock Solid Used Gear is our solution."

As part of the Rock Solid Used Gear program offered in the US, customers can bring used gear into local Arc'teryx stores or use the online mail-in portal to start the trade in process. The gear will then be assessed and gear that is deemed as lightly worn to excellent condition, with the inner label still attached, will be eligible to receive a gift card of 20 percent of the product's original retail price. Any items that cannot be resold, but are still functional, will be donated to organizations with outdoor programs that need gear. The brand is exploring circular solutions such as repurposing and upcycling for items that have reached the end of their useful life and cannot be repaired to a functional state. The Rock Solid Used Gear program will also allow customers to trade in products for different sizes or colors as their lives and preferences change.

"Our company's origins are in innovative design thinking to solve industry challenges," said Director of Sustainability Drummond Lawson. "We apply this same mentality to environmental problems. Our products are built to last but, to keep them in service as long as feasible, we realized that our business models also needed innovation. Rock Solid Used Gear is the result — a platform that gets more users into great gear — and helps lower the footprint of our company by spreading the impact of producing our gear over many more days of use." 

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