Tuesdy, February 27th - 2024

Author: Sam Rubinstein

Your weekly guide to Sustainable Investment


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TBLI 2024 events are now online, click on the image above for a full overview and to register to individual events.

 We will be adding every month more as we finalize dates and speakers. This is a great opportunity to expand your knowledge and network with like-minded individuals.
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TBLI Inspiration Weekend at Glen House

September 6 - September 9, 2024

 Join us for an extraordinary experience at Glen, a picturesque castle in the hills of the Scottish Borders.

Why TBLI Inspiration Weekend?

  • Go beyond your usual network. This unique retreat connects you with thought leaders, investors, and impact investing players.
  • Spark meaningful connections. Enjoy intimate discussions by the fireplace, during meals, or on scenic walks.
  • Build lasting bonds and collaborations. Leverage Robert Rubinstein's trusted network and forge real connections that lead to results.

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‘A Trojan horse of legitimacy’: Shell launches a ‘climate tech’ startup advertising jobs in oil and gas

By: Molly Taft - The Guardian & Drilled media

Onward touts a vision of a ‘clean energy future’, but experts say ventures like this are part of fossil fuel firms’ greenwashing plan

A sleek new startup promising to ‘advance the energy transition’ launched earlier this month promising to “[connect] thousands of innovators across the globe to tackle difficult energy and climate challenges”.

The venture, Onward, is owned by Shell, a company that brought in $28bn in profits from oil and gas last year. The company’s website says it is “accelerating pathways to energy innovation”, serving as a “hub for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurialism”, and creating a “compelling, evidence-based picture of the benefits of a net-zero future”. Team bios include descriptions of an ideal day “in our clean energy future”: kitesurfing, snorkeling and hiking.

However, despite an abundance of green imagery and language, much of the Onward platform’s existing content appears to focus on improving oil and gas outcomes, an analysis by Drilled and the Guardian has found.

The site’s “Projects” section is a short-term job board hosting dozens of jobs in oil and gas exploration (the hiring companies are kept anonymous). Of the five projects with available descriptions, all but one are explicitly for oil and gas production, while many more of the archived jobs on the platform also appear to be for oil and gas.

One posting asks for applicants to conduct a “coherent petroleum system assessment”; another looks for candidates able “to understand subsurface fluid resource estimates along the US Gulf Coast”. Another advertises a position to map reservoirs using seismic analysis in the Nile Delta.

Projects like Onward “[allow] Shell to pretend it’s helping find solutions instead of just accelerating the climate crisis”, Paris Marx, a technology critic and host of the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast, told Drilled.

Onward is just the latest of several climate tech projects by fossil fuel companies.

Shell has at least three other projects created to invest in energy startups, and in 2022, according to the company, it invested 89% more than it did the previous year in “low-carbon energy solutions”.

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, has a $7bn fund and a portfolio of investments in renewables, storage, carbon capture and sequestration, and futuristic fuels like hydrogen and ammonia. Exxon, meanwhile, has plans to invest $7bn in carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and “lower-emission fuels” through 2027. In January, representatives from Shell, Chevron, SoCal Gas, BP, Southern Company, and Saudi Aramco were all on the guest list at a cleantech industry conference in San Diego.

However, many experts say these ventures are largely part of a broad greenwashing strategy.

The world’s leading climate authority has said that all oil and gas exploration must cease worldwide by 2030 in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. But even as they flaunt their involvement in climate tech and investment in climate “solutions”, major fossil fuel companies are ramping up production and doing away with previous climate promises and targets. Shell is no exception: the company’s new CEO, Wael Sawan, has pivoted the company away from previous climate pledges and refocused the company’s efforts to boost oil production, despite record profits in the first quarter of 2023.

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Thinking outside the bin at the world’s first zero-waste restaurant

By: Clare Finney

Waste is a failure of the imagination, goes the adage at Silo: the world’s first zero-waste restaurant. Its founder talks about a ‘bin-first’ approach to menu design, how passion has been mistaken for preaching – and how his latest venture aims to bring zero waste into the kitchens of home cooks

“Our impact shouldn’t be measured by that,” says Douglas McMaster, waving a colourful cube of compressed waste plastic excitedly. That is Silo’s bin, such as they have one – and as a restaurant centred on the idea of ‘zero waste’, they don’t. What isn’t served is fermented; what isn’t or can’t be eaten is composted; and any packaging is either recycled or sent back up the supply chain.

What’s left is added to this pint-sized cube McMaster calls their ‘artwork’. “We don’t have a general waste bin. This is it.”

That’s it – and yet it isn’t it, as McMaster has already alluded. “It’s a symbol of thousands of innovations stacked all over each over in the supply chain. It’s what’s left, and we’ve made it a piece of art – but our impact should be measured by how we influence the restaurant industry and other industries, like design, craft – even technology and system design. We are at the sharp point of the arrow that is piercing industrialisation and killing the problem. That was a deeper chat than I anticipated,” he stops himself, suddenly shy, “but I can’t help myself.”

That is McMaster’s problem, or at least his problem as perceived by his critics. When Silo first opened, both the Guardian’s Grace Dent and the Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa decried the way their dinners turned into sermons on sustainability. What was supposed to be a brief tour of the dining room before our interview proper has become a discourse on the way zero waste is perceived – because McMaster can’t help but dive deeper into waste politics. “Our dining room is beautiful not for any superficial reason but because we need to change the way people perceive waste,” McMaster explains, gesturing to his circular tables made out of recycled plastic, his wall lights made from recycled wine bottles and the sheep’s wool on the ceiling.

He is not superficial, any more than his tables are superficial because the issue of waste is literally and metaphorically deep-seated. “It frustrates me when people assume zero waste is about making pesto out of carrot tops. It’s about systemic change. We hide waste in landfill, in a bin in the cupboard of our kitchens, because it is ugly. Zero waste is about taking the bin away, and working from there.”

Everything in McMaster’s Silo is centred on this premise — even the name, which refers to the various systems they have for keeping materials which can be reused, refilled or recycled. The enthusiasm with which he shows me these is as endearing as it is inspiring the refillable canisters of cleaning products from a closed-loop product company called Fill; the recycling silo, composting silo and a place where wine corks are piled high, ready to be collected and repurposed. Yet the word silo has another meaning too, one which points to the main challenge McMaster faces. In his dogged determination to show people the beauty and potential of zero waste, does he risk becoming siloed himself?

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Climate change is undoing decades of progress on air quality

By: Lois Parshley

A new report finds that 1 in 4 people in the U.S. are breathing unhealthy air as rising temperatures and bigger fires create a "climate penalty."

A choking layer of pollution-laced fog settled over Minneapolis last month, blanketing the city in its worst air quality since 2005. A temperature inversion acted like a ceiling, trapping small particles emitted from sluggish engines and overworked heaters in a gauze that shrouded the skyline. That haze arrived amid the hottest winter on record for the Midwest. Warmer temperatures melted what little snow had fallen, releasing moisture that helped further trap pollution.

Though summertime pollution from wildfire smoke and ozone receives more attention, climate change is making these kinds of winter inversions increasingly common — with troubling results. One in 4 Americans are now exposed to unhealthy air, according to a report by First Street Foundation. 

Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications research at the nonprofit climate research firm, calls this increase in air pollution a “climate penalty,” rolling back improvements made over four decades. On the West Coast, this inflection point was passed about 10 years ago; air quality across the region has consistently worsened since 2010. Now, a broader swath of the country is starting to see deteriorating conditions. During Canada’s boreal wildfires last summer, for example, millions of people from Chicago to New York experienced some of the worst air pollution in the world. It was a precedent-breaking spate that saw the average person exposed to more small particulate matter than at any time since tracking began in 2006. 

It’s a preview of more to come.

Since Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, federal law has regulated all sources of emissions, successfully reducing pollution. Between 1990 and 2017, the number of particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, known as PM2.5, fell 41 percent. These particulates pose a significant threat because they can burrow into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Exposure can cause heart disease, strokes, respiratory diseases like lung cancer, and premature death. Such concerns prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to toughen pollution limits for the first time in a decade, lowering the limit from 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 9 earlier this month.

But a stricter standard isn’t likely to resolve the problem, said Marissa Childs, a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment. That’s because the agency considers wildfires an “exceptional event,” and therefore exempt from the regulation. Yet about one-third of all particulate matter pollution in the United States now comes from wildfire smoke. “The Clean Air Act is challenged by smoke,” she said, both because wildfires defy the EPA’s traditional enforcement mechanisms, and because of its capacity to travel long distances. “Are we going to start saying that New York is out of compliance because California had a fire burning?”

To get a better sense of how a growing exposure to air pollution might impact the public, First Street used wildfire and climate models to estimate what the skies might look like in the future. (Though its researchers relied on Childs’ national database of PM2.5 concentrations, she was not otherwise involved with First Street’s report.) They found that by 2054, 50 percent more people, or 125 million in all, will experience at least one day of “red” air quality with an Air Quality Index from 151-200, a level considered risky enough that everyone should minimize their exposure. “We’re essentially adding back additional premature deaths, adding back additional heart attacks,” Porter said at a meeting about the report. “We’re losing productivity in the economic markets by additionally losing outdoor job work days.”

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UK government can never accept idea nature has rights, delegate tells UN

Dismissal of concept already recognised in UN declarations described as shameful, contradictory and undemocratic

The UK government can never accept that nature or Mother Earth has rights, a British government official from the environment department has told the UN.

The dismissal of a concept that has already been recognised in UN declarations and is a fundamental belief of many Indigenous communities was described by critics as shameful, contradictory and undemocratic.

Britain’s rejection of rights for nature came during a debate in preliminary negotiations for the UN environment assembly in Nairobi on Wednesday, when government representatives were asked to consider a draft resolution by Bolivia on “living well in balance and harmony with Mother Earth and Mother Earth centric actions.” This included a passage on the rights of nature.

The US, the EU, Canada and the UK spoke against the resolution, saying they had not been given sufficient time to consider a complex issue that Bolivia had submitted at the last moment.

The British delegate from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the draft resolution failed to respect diversity of opinions about how to perceive and interact with nature. He added that he opposed the core principle of the resolution and appeared to rule out any possibility that the UK would ever be able to accept this different way of treating nature in courts of law.

“The UK’s firm position is that rights can only be held by legal entities with a legal personality. We do not accept that rights can be applied to nature or Mother Earth,” the delegate said. “While we recognise that others do, it is a fundamental principle for the UK and one from which we cannot deviate.”

Legal experts have been working on the rights of nature, which aims to strengthen protections for species and ecosystems that have been devastated by the prevailing market view of them as resources to be slaughtered or harvested.

A multiplicity of campaigns around the world have made progress in this area, which is often also associated with efforts to unify Indigenous knowledge, ethical thinking and environmental protection. The Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights has collated a list of the countries, regions and legal systems that have recognised rights for nature. Ecuador, Bolivia, Uganda, the US, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, Mexico and Northern Ireland have some recognition of the rights of nature in their constitutions, national laws or local regulations.

Law scholars have noted that corporations and even ships are non-human entities that can have legal personhood imposed by law. The UN general assembly adopted resolutions recognising the rights of Mother Earth or nature at Rio+20 in 2012 and in the convention on biodiversity in 2022. Altogether, there have been 14 UN general assembly resolutions on this subject.

Agustín Grijalva, a former supreme court judge in Ecuador who issued a pioneering judgment on the rights of the Los Cedros forest, said the UK dismissal was disrespectful. “It is completely disrespectful to rule out in such terms the proposal of Bolivia and other countries of the UN system where it is supposed that government delegates work at least to hear, dialogue and debate what is the best for humanity and nature. This declaration is a shame for the UK,” he said.

César Rodríguez-Garavito, a Colombian legal scholar who leads the Earth Rights Advocacy Clinic at New York University, said the UK’s position was paradoxical at best and contradictory at worst. “It’s paradoxical because it recognises rights for non-human entities like corporations but denies them to non-human living beings. It’s contradictory because, while rhetorically acknowledging different cultures and Indigenous worldviews, it nevertheless imposes the western understanding of rights and law,” he said.

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