Sustainable fishing farms in Ghana, air-cleaning carpets and software that operate trains to save on energy. These are just some of the surprising headlines from our case study Sustainia100 that EcoWatch was among the first to report on last week.
Over the last six months, we have researched more than 900 innovations, technologies and projects from more than 70 countries on nearly all continents. Why? To pinpoint where and how innovations are being developed, deployed and put to scale. This will enable companies and consumers to get in on the abundant opportunities sustainability has in store for us.
The released study covers new efforts to turn the fashion and food industries, buildings and transportation systems more efficient and sustainable. And the result is clear: The global markets are currently witnessing a growing diversity in sustainability innovations, which is providing businesses with new market opportunities. From intelligent window glass to big data services monitoring water leaks, sustainable innovation is impacting markets and industries at an incredible pace these years.
When you research your way through this many innovations—developments and popular measures become apparent. Right now, one thing is dominating the green innovation in the market: the notion of a circular economy.
Ashes to ashes—dust to dust
These years, more and more companies are going in circles. And I mean that in a good way. The Sustainia100 study documents how corporations across industries are joining the circular economy by deploying measures to close production loops. A high amount of new products are designed for reuse, recycling, upcycling or even complete biodegradation in order to minimize waste. The end goal is to close the life-cycle of a product by using waste or end-of-use material as resource for new production.
One example is Italian company Bio-on that is replacing petroleum-based plastics with 100 percent biodegradable plastic made from agricultural waste. Made from the byproducts of sugar beet and cane production, this new material is a groundbreaking way to fight the plastic pollution of our oceans and landfills. Another example is Atlantic Leather that is using leftovers from fish-production. Yes, the skin from salmons and cods, which are normally thought of as not valuable, is used for beautiful bags, shoes and jackets. Prada, Nike and Dior are among the loyal customer base.
Return systems: A new business model in itself
A cornerstone in the circular economy is effective return systems that secure used materials and components for recycling. These systems appear in many different shapes in the Sustainia100, but have a common goal of minimizing waste and turning it into a valuable resource to a company. Across the U.S., a novel recycling system is being spread: An eco-ATM. Just like normal ATMs, you go there to get money. But unlike normal ATMs, this machine does not take credit cards. It takes your old tech devices instead. The ecoATMs are put in place across the states, taking old device and compensating the donors in cash. Another example of a very successful return system is I:CO that has created an innovative take-back system for your used jeans, sweaters and footwear. They are deployed in 54 countries and receive 700 tons of used clothing—daily! This material is sorted into 350 different categories that are re-used in the production of new materials, or re-designed as new clothing item. Again, the customer are rewarded with cash for their returned clothes. And I:CO gets a hold of cheap materials that they can re-use. It’s a clear win-win.
Fashion has an eye out for circles
Trailblazing innovations have been developing the circular economy over the last decades making recycling and waste-reduction easier to deploy and even a profitable part of the business. But not only are the innovations becoming better and smarter, they are also broadening their impact.
Over the last years, we have seen how the circular mindset is being taken up by increasingly more industries. An interesting development here is that solutions for the circular economy are seen outside the expected sectors such as food and waste management. Over the last three years of mapping innovation for the Sustainia100 studies, we have been surprised to see especially one industry showing a new appetite for the circular mindset: The fashion industry.
With a long history of troubling issues from workers’ right to polluting productions, this industry has a long way to go. However, the first steps are being taken these years. Abundant innovations are now providing the materials, methods and technologies necessary to set new standards throughout the supply chains.
In Holland, Dutch company Mud Jeans has made a business out of leasing jeans and other clothing. The service provides customers the option of keeping, swapping or returning them after use for recycling, however, MUD keeps the ownership of the materials. And in the U.S., denim company Levi’s has along with its suppliers created a water recycling system saving millions of liters by reducing the amount of fresh water used in the finishing process.
Huge savings, new markets, new jobs
In Europe, projections have been made on the potential of circular economy. And the results are interesting. Not just from a sustainability point of view, but also financially.
An advanced circular economy could generate around $700 billion in materials savings each year in the EU. The savings potential is especially prominent in the fast consumer goods industries, where circularity could yield material a saving of 21.9 percent per year. Building out this industry of circularity has a potential of creating 400,000 jobs in the European Union alone.
Just think how many jobs that would translate to on the U.S. market. This is why we must start thinking in circles across countries and markets.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By Elliot Douglas
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.