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E-Waste Is Becoming A Sustainability Disaster. And Investors Have Taken Notice.

Avery Maloto

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E Waste

As technology continues to evolve (and end up in landfill), e-waste is proving to be a sustainability disaster. In 2018 alone, humans generated approximately 2.01 billion tons of waste worldwide. To put things into perspective, 2.01 billion tons is comparable to 287,142,857 elephants or 275,342 Eiffel Towers. Certainly, that volume of waste sent into landfills is a significant concern. And along with it, potentially reusable resources are continuously wasted as a result of careless disposal. 

Shockingly, e-waste is responsible for 50 million tons of the total generated waste produced each year. Not to mention, it accounts for 70% of the toxic waste lying in landfills. 

To uncover more about the e-waste issue, I recently interviewed Amanda O’Toole, a fund manager at AXA Investment Managers (AXA IM). She is a part of the firm’s investment team as the Lead Portfolio Manager for Framlington Equities’s (AXA IM’s qualitative equities business) Clean Economy Strategy.

We discussed the primary challenges in e-waste as well as why financiers are looking towards waste management as an investment opportunity.

Why Is E-Waste So Hard To Recycle?

When dealing with the improper disposal of hazardous materials, there is a constant risk of land and water pollution through contamination. E-waste similarly causes these pollutive consequences.

For example, batteries leak heavy metals such as lead, barium, and lithium into the soil when placed in a landfill.

As a result, these heavy metals seep into groundwater channels, which eventually enter larger bodies of water like ponds or streams. And as technology continues to develop, the demand for new electronics continues to rise. Estimates show that the number of connected devices will reach 31 billion by 2020.

In O’Toole’s words, “without fundamental change throughout the electronic supply chain, the e-waste epidemic will get worse.”

Amanda OToole
Amanda O’Toole tells us “without fundamental change throughout the electronic supply chain, the e-waste epidemic will get worse.”

Although many companies do already run their own programs for the recycling of e-waste, the reclamation of e-waste is a difficult and complex process.

While complex electronics can contain up to 60 elements from the periodic table, the process of recovering these devices can be complicated and costly.

The question now arises: If it is complicated and costly, what other ways can we deal with e-waste?

Future Economic Potential In E-Waste

The way that O’Toole sees it, e-waste is of particular interest from an investment perspective because of the value of the materials it contains.

When a company is able to extract these raw materials safely, they are able to create a valuable product that can generate revenue.

If the extraction process is cost-effective, it is possible to generate a financial return by reducing e-waste. And in some cases, securing a stable supply of a material may be challenging.

Striving For Clean Technology Through Investments

For the last six months, O’Toole has been working to launch a successful new strategy focused on promoting clean technologies.

In her Clean Economy Investment strategy, she talks about how the fund adopts a unique approach that invests in diverse areas of the market that enjoy structural growth.

Surprisingly, many of these areas are not dependent on macroeconomics. Instead, the product gears towards the interest of mainstream investors.

Through this strategy, O’Toole engages with clients who are not typically interested in environmental value. And with her guidance, clients begin to move towards these areas of the market.

Appealing To the Public

Recently, the rise in social awareness of environmental issues is driving change. This change is partly due to regulations such as building performance regulation and effluence discharge monitoring.

However, consumer demand for things such as meat alternatives and recyclable packaging comprises a majority of the market’s change. In return, brands accommodate this change by developing responsible sourcing policies.

To its advantage, the fund is utilizing this societal trend and implementing it in their own main areas of focus. 

Currently, the fund identified four sub-themes to best represent opportunities for long term secular growth in the Clean Economy:

  1. Sustainable Transport
  2. Smart Energy
  3. Responsible Nutrition
  4. Recycling and Waste Reduction

Framlington Equity’s intention is to invest in publicly listed equities in areas of the global economy which benefit from secular tailwinds. And In the long term, O’Toole argues that consumers will continue to demand the transportation of goods and services; the provision of energy, food, and water; and the use of materials. 

The Bigger Picture

The common theme across the investments that AXA IM makes through the Clean Economy strategy is that these are companies whose goods and services make economic sense for their customers.

Adoption is not dependent on subsidies or a desire by corporates to address environmental issues.

The business case for adoption is based on the need to meet more stringent regulatory requirements. Additionally, companies can gain market share by addressing the growing demand for sustainable consumer products.

Brands would want to invest in order to mitigate potential reputation damage associated with a poor environmental footprint and build a sustainable production cost advantage.

Summary

Companies operating within the clean economy have a critical responsibility to ensure they offer the best solutions for clients while being mindful of the environment.

What’s more, is that when companies demonstrate how their goods and services outperform on relevant environmental metrics, they can gain a competitive advantage.

Financiers have noticed and made waste management a part of their investment strategy.

Final Notes: Is your company doing something to reduce its e-waste or carbon footprint? If so, we’d love to hear from you at tips@mediusventures.com.

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Business

Plant-Based Meat: Just A Fad Or The Future Of Sustainability?

Emily Dao

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A few years ago, if someone brought up plant-based meat, they would get a weird stare and a chuckle. What sounded good about meat made out of … plants? But a lot has changed since then. Now, the market for plant-based meat is only continuing to grow in popularity, with projections for the market to be worth $85 billion by 2030. With many major industries adopting plant-based options to their menus, it is showing the world’s gradual recognition of the dangers of climate change.

To get a better idea of where the plant-based meat industry is going, we chatted with Lone Thomsen, the Chief Marketing Officer at The Meatless Farm Company, a UK-based startup that looks to reduce meat consumption and offer customers a tasty, more environmentally-friendly alternative to their diets.

What’s Driving The Surge Of Plant-Based Meat?

A Deloitte study found that consumers’ rising desire for plant-based meat actually isn’t from vegetarians or vegans alone. Rather, it is “flexitarians” who are largely driving the market.

Flexitarians still eat meat but want to reduce their daily consumption for health or sustainability reasons. As reported by Barclay’s, roughly one-third of Americans, or 100 million people, follow a flexitarian diet. And that number is only continuing to rise.

Plant-based meat isn’t just a fad, Thomsen says. And the growing number of flexitarians proves this is true.

Lone Thomsen, CMO at The Meatless Farm Company, tells us she believes plant-based meat is here to stay.
Lone Thomsen, CMO at The Meatless Farm Company, tells us she believes plant-based meat is here to stay.

“Consumers have become more conscious about what they eat and how that impacts their bodies and health as well as the environmental footprint,” Thomsen said in an e-mail. “It’s [plant-based meat alternatives] good for you and it’s good for the planet.”

The key to success for the emerging plant-based meat market? Options. A huge influx of popular franchises, such as Burger King, Red Robin, and White Castle, have adopted meatless options to their menus.

Now, The Meatless Farm Company, Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and others are hoping to make this dietary switch even more convenient for consumers.

How Did The Meatless Farm Company Come To Be?

Founder Morten Toft Bech started the company in 2016 when his family struggled to prepare meals that were both nutritious and tasty but also didn’t hurt the planet.

Two years later, The Meatless Farm Company engineered a recipe for meatless burger patties, mince, and sausages. A mix of herbs and spices, rice, beetroot, carrots, and pea and soy protein sources make up their products. All ingredients are sustainably sourced.

“By offering a product that cooks, tastes, and looks like meat, we are offering consumers an easy solution to change their behavior and reduce their red meat consumption whilst still being able to enjoy their favourite recipes and getting the right nutritional levels,” Thomsen said.

The Meatless Farm Company launched exclusively with Whole Foods last summer and has plans for further expansion in 2020. The company has also just recently kicked off its partnership with the Italian restaurant Pomodoro Rosso in New York.

Through these collaborations, the company hopes to show consumers how versatile their products are and how they can be easily integrated into traditional cuisines.

What Is The Impact Of Going Meatless?

Recently, there has been a huge push for more people to adhere to “Meatless Mondays.” This flexitarian concept encourages people to go meatless for just one day of the week.

Reducing daily meat consumption has proven to an extremely healthy dietary switch. Just some of its positive implications include decreasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Not to mention, going meatless is also extremely beneficial to the environment.

On the Meatless Mondays website, there are three main reasons to limit consumption for the environment. For one, it helps decrease water usage. In comparison to the 39 gallons of water it takes to produce a pound of vegetables, just one pound of meat requires 1,700 gallons of water.

Two, a reduction in daily meat intake also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Three, it also helps lower fossil fuel dependency. If grain used to feed livestock was instead used to feed people, it’d be enough to feed 840 million people.

Earlier this year, The Meatless Farm Company debuted its “Meatless Consumption Target” campaign. Their goal was to encourage UK households to switch to one plant-based meal per week.

In a study performed alongside environmental scientist Dr. Joseph Poore, researchers found if every UK household were to swap out meat for one meal a week, greenhouse gas emissions in the UK would be cut by 8.4% (or 50 million tons). That’s the same as removing 16 million cars from the road.

Looking Ahead At The Future Of Plant-Based Meat

Anyone can go out to a fast-food restaurant and try a meatless burger out of curiosity. However, companies like The Meatless Farm Company want to make sure plant-based meat can be served at home too.

One of the biggest concerns with adopting a more flexitarian diet is that of convenience. Sure, it is easy to point fingers at those not following the perfectly sustainable diet. However, until recently, access to these options was fairly limited.

Typically, the typical consumer focuses on two things: accessibility and affordability. As companies continue to come up with more plant-based meat options, we should expect more consumers to change up their diet — even if it’s just for one day out of the week.

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Black Friday: Amazon Adds Greatly To Unsustainable Throwaway Culture

Maddie Blaauw

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Black Friday, which happened just two days ago, is a day full of great deals, ones that are bringing millions out to shop; but at the same time, it is also fueling a new weave of throwaway culture. On Black Friday, companies typically make record sales.

And his year was no exception; companies made over $7 billion in sales this time around. But while many are raving about the great deals they got, some environmental activists are drawing attention to the impact of throwaway culture.

Specifically, as online shopping becomes increasingly popular and convenient for customers, how is it impacting throwaway culture? And what role has Amazon had in perpetuating that culture?

The Shift To Online Shopping Exacerbates Throwaway Culture

While the majority of Black Friday shopping still takes place in brick-and-mortar stores, each year an increasing amount of the day’s transactions are taking place online. From 2017 to 2018, online shopping on Black Friday increased by 23.6%.

Totals for 2019 are still up in the air, but the upward trend of online shopping will likely increase again. An estimated 800 million packages will be shipped in the upcoming weeks by the United States Postal Service alone. 

At first, it might seem that online shopping is a benefit for the environment. After all, consumers are not driving in their cars to get to stores.

However, with the rise of one day- and two day- shipping, largely driven by Amazon, online shopping has taken a sharp swing towards becoming unsustainable

Fast Shipping Generates Lots Of Waste, Sparks Throwaway Culture

The waste generated from these fast shipping rates is certainly not a secret. The topic has drawn concern from many environmental activists.

Shipping goods within one or two days means giving each item bought individual packaging. This packaging often cannot be recycled, composted, or reused. Then, items can be shipped separately to prevent delays.

As a result, more delivery trucks are put out on the roads to transport them, increasing vehicle emissions. 

Many retailers offer returns for free. Then, instead of taking the effort to restock returned goods, retailers may just throw them away.

This is very common with returned cosmetic items. Not only does this generate large amounts of waste as a reckless nonuse of resources, but it also doubles all of the transport and packaging environmental tolls.

As shoppers opt for online deals, these effects will increase. One of the largest and most popular companies giving shoppers an online shopping option is Amazon, and many protesters are taking aim.

Black Friday Protests: Concerns About Climate Continue

Climate protesters took to the streets all over the world on Friday in an attempt to bring attention to environmental concerns. Many took place in France, where the American cultural phenomenon has caught on over the past few years. 

Protesters weren’t alone. More than 200 companies, most of them based in France, boycotted the event, closing doors and taking down websites for 24 hours.

These 200 companies follow in the footsteps of outdoor merchandise retailer REI, a more familiar brand in the States. Since 2015, the company has kept stores closed on Black Friday, while still paying employees.

Instead, they encourage their staff and families to explore the outdoors and spend time together. 

French Parliament Motions To Ban Black Friday

The French Parliament, receiving a strong signal from the country’s population, has even put forth an amendment to “ban” Black Friday.

While still far from becoming a law, the proposal nonetheless has gained attention worldwide. 

Large amounts of the protesters were youth, as Black Friday also coincided with the “Fridays for Future” campaign started by teen activist Greta Thunberg. Many protests were also aimed at Amazon, as a result of the environmental cost of fast shipping.

Activists gathered outside of the headquarters in France and distribution centers, trying to voice environmental concerns to Jeff Bezos. 

What Is Amazon Doing To Combat The Issue

Protesters focused on two topics: Amazon and the consumer. Amazon has responded to the unrest by restating its environmental goals, announced several months ago.

The company aims to obtain 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Specialists at Amazon currently estimate that about 40% of the total energy used comes from renewable sources.

Amazon also stated that it plans to invest $100 million to restore rainforests and wetlands. Finally, they will attempt to become net carbon neutral by 2040. If able to do so, the company will be 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.  

What Can We Do To Combat Throwaway Culture?

What can consumers do this holiday season to help the environment? Asking everyone to cease online shopping altogether is unreasonable.

Certainly, consumers should not take full blame blame for the environmental crisis, as those selling the products, and governments that oversee the transactions should take responsibility as well.

Nonetheless, there are some small steps that everyone can take in these next few weeks to minimize harm.

  • Choose longer shipping options when shopping online, so items can be packaged, transported, and delivered together, cutting down on waste and emissions.
  • Order required items all at once instead of individually over time to help to achieve the same effect. This helps reduce the throwing away of multiple packages, common of throwaway culture.
  • Limit online returns as much as possible, especially with items that will likely just be thrown away by the manufacturer. While some returns are necessary, limiting impulse buys and similar habits can help.
  • Support green companies and companies that focus on protecting the environment.

Whether on Black Friday or any other time, if we are all a little more mindful of the environmental effects of our shopping habits, we can make a big impact.

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Most Australians Want Businesses To Be Fully Powered By Renewables, Poll Finds

Rich Bowden

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Renewables

A whopping 68.5 percent of respondents urged Australian businesses to source power entirely from renewables, according to a uComms poll. Moreover, the poll also found that 78.9 percent of people wanted businesses to use more solar and wind energy. Additionally, some 65.7 percent said they would be more likely to buy products or services from companies that do so. It is safe to say that the poll is a signal.

Australians Want More Action On Climate Change And Pivot Towards Renewables

The poll finds Australians want the business community to do more to integrate renewables into their energy mix.

“This poll clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians want businesses and corporations to step up and take action on climate change,” Lindsay Soutar, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, says in a media statement.

He was quick to point out Australia’s over-reliance on the fossil fuel industry. Consequently, he believes the issue is something the business community needs to address.

“The biggest driver of climate change in Australia is coal, which is still burned to make a large amount of our electricity.

“As some of Australia’s biggest users of electricity, businesses and corporations have an obligation to clean up their act and make the move to 100% renewable energy,” he added.  

Businesses Respond To Call For Renewables

There are many examples of Australian businesses that are already committing to change towards a renewable energy future. One is the banking and investment firm Macquarie Group. The company recently announced it has joined a new sustainability initiative.

It is the RE100 initiative, which encourages influential businesses to source their entire energy supply from renewables.

“Macquarie will seek to develop projects to supply the green energy for its new Sydney headquarters and Melbourne office,” said the bank in a recent media release. “Macquarie has been carbon neutral in sourcing its energy supply since 2010 through the purchase of carbon credits.”

“The commitment from Macquarie Group means that it now joins the ‘Big Four’ Australian banks in agreeing to source all of their electricity consumption from renewable sources under the RE100 initiative.”

Macquarie Continues To Support Fossil Fuel Investments

However, while Macquerie’s public pledge to source 100 percent of its energy from renewables has been applauded, others remain skeptical. Even some of Macquerie’s own shareholders question Macquarie’s continued investment in fossil fuels.

Market Forces reported that Macquarie’s shareholders have grilled the company over its financial backing of oil, gas and coal projects. After all, why would it do so after announcing a global risk scenario analysis on climate change?

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