3 Reasons to Be Hopeful About Our Planet in 2018
By Elizabeth Sturcken
Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don't!
There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year—and if the following developments don't make you feel better, I've prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.
Don't get me wrong, I know full well that 2017 was a hard year for the planet. I've lost count of the hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires—many linked to climate change—that rained upon us. It was a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 enormous weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage (not sure how to calculate the emotional cost).
And don't get me started on Scott Pruitt's dramatic and dangerous dismantling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But, rather than dwell on the negative, I'm choosing a different path, a path of positive action. I'm like the kid in that old joke who, encountering a room full of horse shit, grabs a shovel and starts to dig: "With all this manure there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"
And you know what? I've found a whole herd of ponies. Here's why I'm feeling hopeful for a fresh start in 2018:
1. Despite government inaction, companies continue to lead. As the State of GreenBiz 2018 just put it, "company commitments and achievements continue, unfettered by political winds." Why? Because once companies see the business value creation that sustainability brings, they desire to do more. They also know that customers, employees and investors demand it. Believe me, if sustainability weren't good for business, so many companies would not be so engaged in initiatives such as:
- Walmart's Project Gigaton, which is attracting new players, driving ambitious goal-setting and devising solutions across supply chains. Does Walmart know exactly how they will avoid 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chain? Nope. But they've learned that setting big goals drives innovation, and by partnering with their suppliers, they will get there.
- McDonald's takes a further step to close the loop on its packaging. The world's largest restaurant company, with 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries serving more than 69 million customers daily, is aiming to make its packages with renewable, recyclable or certified materials and then ensure that 100 percent of packaging is recycled by 2025. This is a bold, and challenging, step forward that will require partnering with others to achieve—including municipalities, waste haulers, NGOs and customers. Bold goals that address products' full lifecycles recognize the need for outside expertise and collaboration that will help us solve the world's biggest environmental challenges.
- We Are Still In, in which thousands of companies and communities are stepping out of their comfort zone to comment on policy issues such as the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan. They know that smart regulation provides clear pathways for planning and levels the playing field.
- RE 100, in which 119 major companies, including IKEA, Google, Citibank, Facebook, GM, Nike and Starbucks have committed to powering their businesses with 100 percent renewable energy. Why? Renewable prices are falling, concerns about resiliency are increasing, and smart CEOs are investing in the future, not the past.
2. We're seeing real movement on tackling our toxic chemical problem. For years now you, me and our families have been living in a toxic chemical soup, where tens of thousands of chemicals—many not tested for safety—comprise the myriad of consumer products we use each and every day. The good news? After years of non-action, we're finally seeing companies start the grueling task of identifying the worst offenders in their chemical supply chain, removing them from product formulations and finding safer alternatives as replacements. There's a long way to go here, but here are some first, big steps on the start of that journey:
- Walmart's Sustainable Chemistry Policy 2.0 is scaling action by setting a strong new commitment to reduce the company's chemical footprint (the total mass of chemicals of concern in their product portfolio) by 10 percent—reducing more than 55 million pounds of priority chemicals from consumable products on their shelves—by 2022.
- Beauty and Personal Care Leadership group, where companies such as Target, CVS and Sephora have joined together to drive much-needed alignment on a common approach to evaluating product sustainability in this $85 billion industry. In doing so, it will ultimately create clearer market signals for more sustainable products.
3. Innovation is pushing environmentalism to new heights. Emerging technologies and unlikely collaborations are enabling us to observe, measure and solve environmental problems in ways we've never dreamed of before—and take those solutions to scale. Innovations like:
- Methane detectors mounted on cars, drones and satellites are quantifying and mapping this once-invisible threat to the atmosphere (and to companies' bottom lines).
- Cheaper renewables, improved battery storage and the advance of Zero Emission Vehicles continue to improve our relationship with energy reduce the environmental impact of our businesses, homes, trucks and cars. At the same time, microgrids coming online are keeping us more resilient in the face of extreme weather events.
- Blockchain: Business teams are now timing how long it will take before someone brings up blockchain on a call. But it's no joke: Walmart and IBM are already experimenting with how to track food throughout the supply chain, and this is just the very beginning of how it will help green our global shopping cart.
Feeling better yet? If not, here are three, concrete actions you and your company can take in 2018 to become part of this wave of positive change:
1. Publically comment on the Clean Power Plan: Just because the Trump administration repealed it doesn't mean it's dead: They are required by law to replace it, which means the business voice can and will be critically important to what comes next. The deadline has been extended to April 26—your customers, employees and shareholders will reward you for walking the walk.
2. Set science-based sustainability targets: Goals designed to achieve science-based, measurable outcomes will drive tangible innovation in your company, and will show your customers, employees and shareholders that you're actually walking the walk.
3. Partner up and talk about this work: Working together is needed to solve the big challenges we face. Find a like-minded NGO you can work with to jump in and do the hard work of change. Or partner with another company to spark pre-competitive innovation and get change happening now. Finally, talk about it all—the successes, the struggles, the goals and the aspirations. Only when we can learn from each other will we be able to make the kind of progress that we need to make.
So, Happy New Year, all! We've got a lot to do to protect our planet. But there is much to be hopeful for this year that will energize us all to fight this fight.
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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