Friday 5 - 18th October 2019

Posted by Cara McEvoy
17 October, 2019

Your weekly helping of five interesting ideas to take you into the weekend. Curated by Good Business and delivered straight to your inbox first thing on a Friday, if you subscribe here.

(1) Going underground 

Discussions about carbon reduction usually focus on reducing emissions. But this alone almost certainly won’t be enough to arrest and reverse climate change.  

We need to find ways to remove the carbon already in the atmosphere, finding long-term storage solutions to keep it safely out of the way. And here, a new initiative from our friends at agtech company, IndigoAg, could make a significant contribution.  

It may well be that the answer has been in front of us all this time, and that one of the villains of the piece can actually become the hero. One of the most efficient methods of carbon sequestration is changes to farming practices. Soil traps carbon on a large scale but traditional farming practices deplete and release this carbon. Estimates suggest that 10-20% of global carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution have come from soil carbon loss.  

However, simple changes, such as minimising tilling, and planting cover crops, can radically improve the amount of carbon that is stored. The Terraton Initiative seeks to transform how we grow food by re-trapping one trillion tonnes of carbon – a ‘terraton’ – approximately the amount released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. Higher carbon content leads to healthier, more resilient soil, enhances crops’ yields and nutritional value, and supports biodiversity. A win all round. 

The challenge is how to persuade farmers to change established practices. The answer lies in a combination of solutions – paying them for their carbon sequestration efforts through a carbon marketplace funded by carbon credits, encouragement from large food companies that want lower carbon agricultural products, good evidence and success stories, and, ultimately, government incentives. Terraton seeks to bring all of these together to create real momentum for change, supported by cost-effective and accurate measurement systems. 

Since launching earlier this year, Terraton has already enrolled 10 million acres of farmland in its project. With 12 billion acres worldwide devoted to agriculture, this is a small first step on a long path to net-zero. However, large trees come from small (and sustainably planted) acorns, and we’re excited about Terraton’s potential to provide an immediate, affordable and scalable answer to the climate crisis. If you want to know more, get in touch! 

(2) Risky business 

It’s always disappointing to lose your hard-earned money – whether on a bet, an investment, or even some coins behind the sofa. But what about losing £16 trillion?  

This is the value of assets that the Bank of England has said could be lost if the climate emergency is not addressed effectively. Meanwhile this week, Governor Mark Carney warned that firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt. Both pretty compelling prompts to act. This warning is not just directed at the energy companies that rely on burning fossil fuels: the list of assets at risk of becoming ‘stranded assets’ is growing to include things like diesel cars, the manufacturing capacity for diesel cars, and the associated insurance capacity. 

But it is (somehow) not all doom and gloom. The flipside of assets’ changing values in the transition to a net-zero economy is that some will also become more valuable. Mark Carney also highlighted the opportunities in the industries, sectors and firms that will be part of the solution, particularly in the UK, “from the use of artificial intelligence in energy systems through to potentially advanced materials like graphene”, while pointing to the need for climate-related risk disclosure to get there. 

We believe there is an urgent need for transformation of businesses to address the scale of the challenges we face – on, both, climate change and inequality – and that the businesses and brands that get this right will become the icons of the future. So – we very much agree with Mark Carney’s analysis of both the risk and the opportunity. And we’re excited that the world’s heavyweights have started moving in the same direction.  

In the words of Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Morgan, “If we don’t have a planet, we’re not going to have a very good financial system”. Signs of our times.... 

(3) What you can’t aspire to 

Amazon recently raised the wages of its US workers to $15 an hour. Owner Jeff Bezos, even after his recent expensive divorce, is worth $130 billion. 

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” said Bezos announcing the pay rise. But even with this move supposedly being designed to tackle inequality, it would take an Amazon worker, assuming that they didn’t spend anything at all, 4.15 million years to amass their boss’s wealth. That’s over 20 times the entire length of human history. 

These are extremes, of course, but there are more billionaires in the world today than ever before. It would take the average US worker over 21,000 years to make a billion dollars. And this comes at a time when, for the first time in US history, billionaires pay a lower effective rate of tax than the bottom 50% of earners.  

Inequality is a burning global issue and businesses are at the crucible. From this year, UK listed companies with over 250 employees are mandated to disclose the pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid in their organisations. This is a positive start, but this has to be about more than outing the worst offenders. For companies, it’s about running a business that thinks about and addresses inequality through who it hires and how it employs them, and the suppliers it chooses and how it shares the rewards of its successes. Inequality is defining the nature of our societies and democracies, and something needs to change. 

(4) It’s in the bag  

Would you opt for shopping plastic-free if not for having to potentially spend more on your basket? Well, if you live in Italy, you’re in luck!  

The Italian government is taking demands for less plastic seriously by allocating €10million to reimbursing supermarkets that offer packaging-free products – with a 20% reduction in the price for consumers.  

Only 44% of Italy’s plastic packaging gets recycled and 50,000 tonnes of it ends up in the Mediterranean Sea every year. The government hopes this initiative will increase demand for plastic-free purchases by making low-waste shopping more accessible and more appealing price-wise.  

In the same way that customers at ‘zero waste’ stores like Bulk Market and Hetu in London and The Clean Kilo in Birmingham come to fill their own reusable containers with loose items, Italian shoppers will be able to avoid plastic bags and other ‘disposable’ packaging by paying for their shopping by weight.   

For those consumers who are mostly convinced but do need a final nudge to ditch packaging, paying 20% less could result in a compound effect, (the theory that the accumulation of small prompts over time really does work to change behaviour), pushing people – finally – to ditch unnecessary plastic. 

(5) Otters and hearing aids  

Ever wanted to send your friend an otter emoji only to be disappointed that, alas, they haven’t made one yet? Lucky for you, Apple’s new emoji collection has you sorted. 

In the age of the emoji, communicating through characters has become a universal online language. The ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji was even selected as Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘Word of the Year’ back in 2015 due to its worldwide use. And yet, emojis have not always been entirely accessible. 

We wrote last week about the importance of businesses prioritising disability, so we were pleased to see that the new emoji collection includes, among the otters and oysters, an ear with a hearing aid, service dogs, prosthetic limbs and people in wheelchairs.  

Whilst the collection does well to pictorially represent people with disabilities, it sadly does not account for accessibility of use. For example, the 2 million people in the UK living with sight-loss find it hard to distinguish between emojis due to factors like the subtle differences in facial expressions and shading, and the uncategorised list in the user-interface. Consequently, emojis are rarely used by partially-sighted people, which reduces their ability to communicate like the vast majority of us. 

Fortunately, an ongoing project between We Are Social and the RNIB is re-designing emojis for blind and partially-sighted users; in particular, by making eye-shape more prominent to better convey the emotions depicted. 

Whilst it is positive to see inclusivity put into practice, more collaboration with disability campaigns and charities could help to make the use of emojis accessible; not just broaden what we are able to represent through texts. 

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