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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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This Restaurant Giant Is Making An Ambitious Commitment To Sustainable Packaging

Avery Maloto

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With 12 Taco Party Packs and refreshing Baja Blasts, there is no question as to how Taco Bell attracts over 40 million customers each week in the United States. Unfortunately, each of these orders presents a more pressing issue: sustainable packaging. 

Each year, only 29% of all fast-food containers and packaging are recovered. The rest accumulates in landfills, unable to serve another purpose in their lifetime. Fortunately, Taco Bell wants to address the issue of sustainable packaging.

Kicking 2020 off with a bang, the fast-food giant recently released a plan promising a sustainable mindset. Here’s what its plan is all about.

Sustainable Packaging: Recyclable, Compostable, and Reusable Products Only

Last week, Taco Bell announced its goal to make all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 world wide. 

With 7,000 stores open across the globe, the company sits as one of the largest fast-food corporations in the world. However, with this comes great environmental responsibility. Fortunately, Mark King, Taco Bell’s CEO, is already preparing for the company’s future.

In his own words, “As Taco Bell expands its footprint, our responsibility to drive positive impact increases.”

Taco Bell CEO Mark King emphasizes his company's increased focus on sustainability. 
Credit: Washington Speakers Bureau
Taco Bell CEO Mark King emphasizes his company’s increased focus on sustainability.
Credit: Washington Speakers Bureau

King adds, “Our business growth in the last decade has positioned us to create change for good and implement creative solutions for our planet, our people and our food. We’re excited to shake things up and make 2020 even more about what matters most: our purpose”.

Fast-Food Giant Eliminates Chemicals and Adds In-Store Recycling Opportunities

In order to achieve its goal for sustainable packaging, Taco Bell is altering many of its products. 

Moving forward, several things such as fountain drink cups to paper bags will no longer have PFAS, Phthalates, and BPA. Despite being found in many food packaging, there is an unsettling link between these chemicals and multiple negative health effects.

For example, research suggests that BPA, or bisphenol A, may cause cancer and affect brain development in the womb.

By doing so, the brand strives to increase its products’ ability to be recycled, compostable, or reusable. Taco Bell did not release any information on what materials they will be using in its future packaging.

In addition to this, Taco Bell will also be offering sustainable in-store options in the near future. As of right now, these changes include implementing recycling and/or composting bins into all restaurants (where infrastructure permits).

However, there is a possibility that the restaurant will soon be supplying reusable food baskets for dine-in meals.

Taco Bell’s Previous Actions On Sustainable Packaging

In 2019, Taco Bell banned plastic straws from all of its locations in Romania and Moldova. Unfortunately, the company does not have any official commitments on bans involving plastic bags or foam containers.

Reducing Its Carbon Footprint

There is no doubt that Taco Bell is ringing in the new year with ambitious goals. However, this is not the first time that it has tried to implement sustainable goals. 

In 2019, the fast-food giant publicized 7 of its prioritized goals. Surprisingly, almost half of them can be attributed to reducing its carbon footprint.

For example, Taco Bell vowed to work to ensure that all its beef is sustainable, as well as to improve recycling efforts and include menu diversity for those leaning towards a plant-based diet

Although already having successfully launched new favorites like the Black Bean Crunchwrap, it seems like Taco Bell hopes to continue this momentum.

As another one of its 2020 goals, the company is currently striving to be the number one QSR for vegetarians.

Needless to say, environmental activists, vegetarians, and flexitarians around the globe are all happy for these announcements.

It’s Time For All Fast-Food Brands To Use Sustainable Packaging

With its efforts, Taco Bell is one of many fast-food restaurants to begin adopting a greener mindset. Working with similar ideas, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Subway have already made sustainable commitments. However, there is still room for improvement in this industry.

Although there are many options for companies to reduce their environmental footprint, there are a few ideas that should be implemented as soon as possible:

  1. Reduce packaging or use of plastic wherever possible.
  2. Ditch hard to recycle materials such as polystyrene.
  3. Like Taco Bell, offer in-store recycling opportunities.

By doing so, monumental change can quickly occur.

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JetBlue Airways Will Become Carbon Neutral By July 2020, Making It The First In US History

Avery Maloto

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jetBlue promises to become carbon neutral in July 2020.

This year, JetBlue Airways Corporation may become the first large U.S. airline to go carbon neutral.

As the quickest way around the world, the airline industry engages with over 4 billion individuals each year. However, it is one of the largest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Shockingly, a singular commercial flight produces more carbon dioxide than the amount that some citizens produce in an entire year. Taking note of the situation, environmental activists are putting the travel industry under fire and calling out its contribution to climate change.

However, amidst all of the criticism, JetBlue is choosing to step up to the challenge.
In order to do so, the company is set to invest in eco-friendly projects across the globe.

JetBlue Goes Green With Fuel Choices

In a press release publicized on Monday, JetBlue vowed to mitigate emissions and go carbon neutral by July 2020. With expanding efforts, JetBlue can offset 15 to 17 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This is equivalent to removing 1.5 million passenger vehicles off the road each year. 

As the leading project in its initiative, the company will be beginning to use sustainable fuel for all flights outbound of San Francisco. Fortunately, the fuel is already fully compatible with the existing jet engine technology.

JetBlue commits to using sustainable fuel for all flights outbound of San Francisco.
JetBlue commits to using sustainable fuel for all flights outbound of San Francisco.

Sustainable fuels, or biomass fuels, are any fuels derived from a once-living matter. For example, wood, corn, and other waste from agricultural crops are used in its production. This provides a sustainable solution to fossil fuels being popularly used today. 

As of 2018, airplanes produce 11% of all CO2 emissions in the world and significantly contribute to climate change. However, by utilizing this alternative, JetBlue says that they can reduce each flight’s fuel carbon footprint by 80%.

JetBlue Makes Becoming Carbon Neutral A Group Effort

On top of its sustainable fuel swap-out, JetBlue stated that they will continue to partner with Carbonfund.org. As a U.S. nonprofit organization, Carbonfund.org focuses on reducing carbon emissions and creating climate solutions.

The airline company and the nonprofit have been working together since 2008. In the last 10 years, the two have already mitigated more than 2.6 billion pounds of CO2 emissions.

On top of this, JetBlue now has new carbon offsetting partners. Adding to the list, EcoAct and South Pole are working with the company to promote carbon-neutral travels. 

Airline Goes Green On Land Too

As part of its carbon offsetting program, the airline company is engaging with projects around the world to mitigate the overall need for jet fuel. Focusing on areas that will opt for eco-friendly, renewable resources, JetBlue is striving to lower emissions in the atmosphere when possible. 

Currently, JetBlue announced support of carbon offset projects such as:

  • Forest conservation by declining plans that will convert forests for other purposes.
  • Promoting landfill gas capture (LFG) and converting it into renewable energy resources. 
  • Developing solar and wind farms to replace the need for fossil fuels like coal, diesel, and furnace oil.

JetBlue did not disclose the cost of any of its sustainable programs.

Collaboration Pivotal in Becoming Carbon Neutral Industry-Wide

According to JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, the solution to this problem is a community effort. 

JetBlue CEO wants other airlines to join in the fight to become carbon neutral.
JetBlue CEO wants other airlines to join in the fight to become carbon neutral.
Credit: Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg

“The airline industry is one of the few industries that has collectively committed to an international emissions reduction goal,” said Hayes. “Air travel brings so much good to the world and JetBlue has always been about making our essential industry better. Carbon offsetting is a bridge to, not a silver bullet for, a lower carbon future. Reducing and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions is a fundamental aspect of our business plan and our mission to inspire humanity.”

Hopefully, JetBlue achieves its mission and inspires others to do the same. If several other companies follow JetBlue’s environmental initiatives, the future of airline travels may be promising.

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Spanish Energy Company Invests $500 Million In South Australian Renewable Energy Park

Rich Bowden

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Recently, Spanish renewable energy company Iberdrola announced that it would invest $500 million in an Australian renewable energy park. Set to be located in Port Augusta, South Australia, the 320MW hybrid solar and wind farm will be operational as soon as 2021. 

Why Australia for a New Energy Park?

Currently, Iberdrola already has over 30GW of installed capacity, in Europe, the US and South America. But at the moment, the company has very little presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Consequently, looking to Australia as a high-potential renewables market, Iberdrola believes its investment in the new energy park can be a good first step into the region.

Recently, Iberdrola’s Head of Renewables Xavier Viteri told Australian media outlets that his company has major plans for Australia. Indeed, Port August presents a great opportunity for wind power, and solar power is a formidable supplement, Viteri mentioned.

Perfect Location for Renewable Energy Park

According to DP Energy’s Australia Manager Catherine Way, the energy park in Port Augusta is “shovel ready”.

Based on the DP Energy website, the chosen location allows the project to optimize for balancing wind and solar generation. Moreover, its placement will allow for an approach that is more tailored to the needs of the electric grid.

Is the Australian Renewable Energy Market Coming Back?

South Australia is not new to renewable energy innovation. For instance, in 2017, Tesla CEO Elon Musk won a $65.5 million bet with the South Australian government by installing a massive 100MW battery in the state’s north within 100 days.

Iberdrola announced it will invest more in renewables throughout Australia. The announcement has boosted the Australian renewable energy market, which has experienced a recent downturn.

The question is: will Iberdrola’s new $500 million investment be enough to encourage other companies to bring back the Australian renewable energy market?

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