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We need to talk: climate change is making people suicidal.

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As data continues to underscore the severity of climate change, reactions have been all over the place. Politically, Democrats and Republicans have been divided, as they continue to spar on EPA regulations and climate policy altogether. For politicians, the talking points are about policy and lobbyist money. But perhaps the most vulnerable in the conversation are everyday citizens, some of whom are reporting “climate despair.” That is, climate change has given them so much anxiety they’ve considered suicide.

Though climate despair is far from the status quo, the wave is undoubtedly growing. VICE reported that 37-year-old Meg Ruttan Walker, a former teacher, “felt like there was nowhere to go,” and that “[her] son was home with [her] and … [she] couldn’t even look at him without breaking down.” As a result, Walker contemplated self-harm in light of what felt like helplessness.

Now, most people can’t resonate with Walker ⁠— climate change is serious but not enough for one to self-harm or even commit suicide. But science shows that this kind of behavior isn’t all that outlandish.

A 2009 study conducted by British researchers tested subjects by exposing them to fear-inducing climate-data visualizations. In other words, researchers wanted to know how people would react if presented with a “do something … or die” scenario. Surprisingly, the research yielded that people tended to choose the latter.

Thematically, it’s all about hopelessness. Some might ask, “Why bother if we can’t do anything about climate change anyway?” Others might wonder what the fate of their kids might be. When people hear AOC say that the world will end in 12 years due to climate change. And rightfully so, whether or not science backs that claim up.

We need to talk about what companies and politicians can do to work together in the fight against climate change. There needs to be a discussion around how oil and gas companies can get involved in moving the world towards cleaner energy.

Altogether, we need to take action. Climate reform can’t be theoretical ⁠— it can’t just companies promising things 20 or 30 years down the line. Though those promises are surely helpful, people want to see progress immediately. The feedback loop needs to be short and people need to see implementation, not just conversation.

That’s how we deal with climate despair in the long run — reduce the feeling of helplessness through actually doing something about climate change and showing people they can take action and make a difference.

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Zara makes a bold commitment to sustainability. Is it greenwashing?

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From Burberry to Gucci, luxury brands are seemingly making a commitment to sustainability. The difference is Zara has worked on sustainability initiatives for almost a decade.

Zara’s Track Record and New Commitments

In 2012, Zara pledged to remove all hazardous chemicals from its supply chain by 2020. Later, in 2016, Zara launched an eco-friendly line, titled ‘Join Life.’ The line featured organic cotton, recycled wool, forest-friendly wood fiber, and more.

Just Tuesday, the company stepped it up.

It told Vogue that it would make all of its collections from sustainable fabrics by the year 2025. Additionally, The Guardian reported that Zara would power 80% of the power required by its headquarters with renewable energy sources.

But Is Zara Greenwashing?

Though these seem like noble goals, there is reason to believe that Zara is greenwashing, or portraying itself to be greener than it actually is. A quick glance at the company’s annual reports page yields the conclusion that the company hasn’t released a sustainability report since 2004.

Though the company did include sustainability in its 2017 annual report, the topic only grazed 2 pages out of 388. That begs the question: does Zara actually prioritize sustainability these days or it is just a show?

Further, unlike companies like Starbucks that publish data on their sustainability progress, Zara seems to have no indication of it. As mentioned, its 2012 promises are to be delivered in 2020. So far, consumers and analysts have been left in the dark to wonder just how far the company is from reaching its targets.

And to recall H&M’s greenwashing snafu, Zara’s newest announcements have an uncanny resemblance. With vague and drawn-out promises, the company really doesn’t give the public a chance to verify its claims.

Conclusions: And Next Steps for Zara

The obvious next step for the company is to actually deliver on its promises — to actually make all of its clothes from sustainable fabrics and to rid its supply chain of harmful chemicals. But perhaps more importantly, the company should publish data that contextualizes how it’s doing on its sustainability goals.

Part of making an audience believe that you’re committed to something is allowing that audience to verify your claims. That would be impossible without a sustainability report (or a greater emphasis on sustainability in the company’s annual reports).

Zara already has an edge when it comes to sustainability. It adopted sustainability initiatives much earlier than most high fashion brands. That is, it has a track record of caring about the environment far before consumers genuinely cared about sustainability in their buying decisions. For instance, Burberry incinerated over $38 million in clothing for supply control. After consumers and pundits called the company out, it announced sustainability initiatives.

Zara doesn’t have a PR nightmare like this to deal with.

Empirically, it’s even been praised for its sustainability initiatives. But to keep up the pace, Zara must publish data and be transparent about what’s really going on under the hood.

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Is Starbucks actually serious about environmental sustainability?

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Corporate has made a lot of promises about sustainability recently, as it becomes an increasingly important topic. Though the intent of many of these promises has come into question, what some call “greenwashing,” some companies are serious about environmental sustainability and have been for a long time coming. (Cue Aldi.) So, is Starbucks among them?

Starbucks’s Early Commitment

No doubt, Starbucks is an early adopter of climate strategy. Its initiatives date back to 2005 when it started investing in renewable energy. Impressively, the company worked hard for 10 years until it finally able to have renewable sources power 100% of the electricity used in company-operated stores.

Aside from its dedication to renewables, the coffee chain also boasts a 20+ year commitment to ethically and sustainably-sourced coffee. In 2015, Starbucks announced a $30 million commitment to helping farmers forge sustainable farming practices, particularly when it comes to coffee. The initiative, dubbed the Global Farmer Fund, has now grown to over $50 million in committed capital and expanded to donating trees to farmers.

Starbucks Misses Sustainability Targets

Despite Starbucks’s early commitment, it missed a number of key sustainability targets. In 2008, Starbucks committed to serving 25% of its drinks in reusable cups by 2015.

Starbucks was far from achieving that goal. In fact, it was so far from achieving the goal that it revised the goal to be having 5% of its drinks served in tumblers by 2015.

But the company failed to meet this goal as well. To put it into perspective, Starbucks’s new goal is to have 2.8% of its drinks served in reusable cups by 2022. That’s double its current 1.4% figure.

As You Sow’s Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron opines, “Starbucks has said they’ve been trying to promote reusable cups for years, but there’s clearly been little effort made toward what should be an easy policy to meet.”

I’m not sure about it being an easy policy to meet, but objectively, Starbucks has missed its targets, and by a sizable margin too.

Current Initiatives at Starbucks

In hopes to become a more environmentally-conscious company, Starbucks is currently working on a number of initiatives.

To make its cups more sustainable, Starbucks has invested $10 million alongside venture firm Closed Loop Partners to make its cups both recyclable and compostable by 2021. If Starbucks can pull it off, it would be a huge deal for its over 30,000 locations globally. That is, its cups, if not thrown away, could be repurposed into other goods down the road.

When it comes to the plastic problem, consumers are using tons of plastic straws from beverage companies like Starbucks. Consequently, the company hopes to phase out its plastic straws by 2020 and replace them with “alternative-material straw options”. If the company can make this happen, it would remove over 1 billion plastic straws a year from circulation.

Additionally, Starbucks looks to “Double the recycled content, recyclability and compostability, and reusability of [its] cups and packaging” by 2022. Earlier this year, Aldi made the commitment to reach 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. Starbucks seems to be on the right track here.

renewable energy
Just a month ago, the coffee giant bought into a renewable energy portfolio, containing both solar and wind projects.

Just a month ago, the coffee giant bought into a renewable energy portfolio, containing both solar and wind projects. Greentech Media reports that this buy will provide enough energy to power 3,000 Starbucks stores in the United States. The portfolio approach, so far, has been unique to the corporate ecosystem.

Conclusions

Starbucks has unequivocally shown that does have a genuine commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and improving its environmental impact. From its early commitment to its current initiatives, the company exemplifies one dedicated to sustainability efforts.

However, the coffee giant has a lot more to prove before it’s completely in the clear. What remains to be seen is whether it will be able to meet its current targets.

But for now, the answer is yes, Starbucks is serious about environmental sustainability.

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AOC’s Green New Deal has changed the trajectory of the 2020 race in a big way

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With the 2020 elections underway, climate policy is starting to take center stage. Now, most top Democratic candidates have some plan to tackle the issue, and some even have multi-trillion-dollar proposals to combat it. But it wasn’t always that way. In 2015, Bernie declared climate change “the largest threat to national security,” yet the issue was far from mainstream. Could AOC’s Green New Deal have anything to do with it?

The Green New Deal

In February of 2019, AOC released an outline of her Green New Deal. The ambitious plan aims to have the United States fulfill its entire power demand through zero-emissions energy sources, overhaul transportation systems that contribute adversely to the environment, and more.

Certainly, the Green New Deal has set the tone for the elections in 2020. Washington Governor Jay Inslee might be most notable for his climate platform, but we can’t forget about Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, or Biden either.

The last election, few took climate policy seriously. Times are different now and you can thank AOC for that. Whether or not you agree with the Green New Deal, you have to admit that AOC has put climate policy on the map.

And here’s why.

The First Democratic Debates

Some would argue that climate change still isn’t mainstream and they’d cite the amount of time dedicated to discussing the issue in the first Democratic debates. Specifically, only 7 minutes were allotted in discussing the issue of climate change.

Now, you might argue something along the lines of “Well, of course, immigration and guns got more time — they’re more important issues!” And you’d be somewhat right: social issues have long been important, especially to the Democratic party. The problem with that argument though is that it implies there’s a direct correlation between time spent on an issue in the debates and the importance of that issue. In most cases, there is, but on climate, the DNC is dead wrong.

Let’s take a step back and entertain a couple of points.

Warren, O’Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat. For a second, let’s disregard the fact that climate change really isn’t a “geopolitical threat” per se. Did these candidates really think that climate change is a “geopolitical threat”? Well, we’ll never really know, but I have a hunch they didn’t. Just look at the news cycle — that answer paid dividends in a big way.

Warren, O'Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat.
Warren, O’Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat.

Discussion of climate change was present on the second night too.

It started with Eric Swalwell mentioning “If we’re going to solve the issue of climate chaos, pass the torch.” Bernie in response to Swalwell’s reiteration of “passing the torch,” mentioned that it wasn’t a generational issue; instead, it would come down to “who has the guts to stand up to the fossil fuel industry…”

Of course, there was a more direct discussion of climate change too. Harris reaffirmed her support for the Green New Deal and mentioned that as president, she would reenter the United States into the Paris Agreement. Buttigieg voiced his plan to institute a carbon tax. Hickenlooper believes that working with the oil and gas to move the needle. Biden voiced that as president, he would build 500,000 recharging stations across the United States. Sanders mentioned he would move the United States away from the fossil fuel industry.

When the candidates were asked about what issue they would tackle if they could only tackle one, answers were pretty spread out.

Bennet also mentioned climate change. Andrew Yang said UBI, the centerpiece of his platform, but sees it also help with climate change. Hickenlooper also mentions climate change.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Though the Green New Deal likely won’t be signed into law, it has created a standard for Democrats. Though climate change isn’t a centerpiece of anyone’s platform other than Inslee’s, the issue will undoubtedly continue to be discussed.

On August 22nd, DNC officials will meet in San Francisco to discuss potentially having a climate debate or forum. In the case of a forum, candidates would discuss instead of debate.

Inslee might be getting what he wants. We'll find out soon.
Inslee might be getting what he wants. We’ll find out soon.

Climate change has come a long way as an issue. For all the complaints about the issue only getting 7 minutes of discussion in the first Democratic debates, that’s already more than the issue got in the entire 2016 election.

Now, obviously AOC wasn’t the first to take political action against climate change, but she should be credited with making the issue mainstream. You wonder if candidates would even bother discussing climate if AOC’s Green New Deal didn’t exist…

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