Sugar’s Greater Potential

The wily ways of the biggest petrochemical companies have been a concern since we started this platform, and when something seems like big news, but turns not to be so big, we share what we find.  We have previously shared a story or two about sugar’s potential as an energy source, but in its recent edition The Economist weighs in on what may be sugar’s bigger than big potential:

Better disposable coffee cups

They can be made with the waste from sugar cane

Sugar cane contains around 10% sugar. But that means it contains around 90% non-sugar—the material known as bagasse (pictured) which remains once the cane has been pulverised and the sugar-bearing juice squeezed out of it. World production of cane sugar was 185m tonnes in 2017. That results in a lot of bagasse. Continue reading

Beware Of “This Is Big” & Other Snappy Catchphrases

The Miniature Science series of ads, created last year by the very talented folks at BBDO on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, are snappy.

By now most people who pay attention to climate science are aware of ExxonMobil’s active role in creating doubt about the emerging facts that their own scientists established about mankind’s impact on climate. In addition to actors like that giant petrochemical company, there are also behind-the-scenes, complicit creatives who have provided essential messaging to strengthen the deception. In a new essay, Bill McKibben turns his attention to those folks, and expects accountability:

If money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns, then P.R. campaigns and snappy catchphrases are the kindling. Illustration by Lia Liao

When “Creatives” Turn Destructive: Image-Makers and the Climate Crisis

Past sins are past no more: an overdue historical recalibration is under way, with monuments being pulled down, dorms renamed, restitution offered. People did things, bad things; even across the span of centuries, they’re being held to account, and there’s something noble about that. The Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, for instance, recently backed the removal of his famous ancestor’s statue from Richmond, Virginia. The memorial, he wrote, “is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.” Such a response raises an uncomfortable question: What are we doing now that our descendants will need to apologize for? Might we be able to get ahead of the sin this time? Continue reading

Rudy’s Vegan Butcher, A Re-Conceived Tradition In London

When they opened, the timing did not seem promising, but against all the odds they sold out and are prepping for the next virtuous wave:

Back Soon – Promise!

Wow! Thank you SO much – you guys have cleaned us out and we have been so overwhelmed by your generous support and custom. We are heads down in the kitchen restocking as fast as we can, and are also currently looking for bigger kitchen so we can continue to meet demand. Thanks for understanding while we take a short break – we will be back online as soon as we can! Rudy’s Vegan Butcher, Islington is still open! We’re busy working on our Christmas feasting box too, stay tuned… 😉

Understanding The Life Of Our Groceries

We apparently do not look as closely as we should when we go to the supermarket. One paragraph from this book review should be enough to know whether you want a closer look:

…Author Benjamin Lorr spent five years looking into that as he studied all aspects of American supermarkets — from the suppliers, the distributors, and supply routes, to the workers in the retail outlets themselves. In the reporting for his new book The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket, Lorr met with farmers and field workers and spent 120-hours-straight driving the highways with a trucker as she made her multistate rounds. He worked the fish counter at a Whole Foods market for a few months, and went to trade shows to learn about entrepreneurs who were trying to break into the industry. He also traveled to Asia to learn about commodity fishing – finding human rights violations along his journey…

Antitrust considerations might be of interest if you plan to purchase The Secret Life of Groceries.

Uncommon Response To An Uncommon Ocean Spill

Replica Air Jordans, constructed by the artist Andy Yoder’s from trash gathered on dumpster dives, evoke the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990. Greg Staley

We shared another story years ago about a creative response to an ocean spill, but it was the frequent kind of spill, involving oil. More common in our pages are stories about creative responses to the plague of waste, especially that from plastic. Today’s story is in good company:

If the Shoe Floats

Over the decades, a mass of flotsam from a freighter accident has inspired scientific discovery, urban legend and, now, an art exhibition commemorating the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990.

Mr. Yoder wields a glue gun to create a sneaker replica for an installation that also stands as commentary on environmental destruction. Greg Staley

It seemingly happened so long ago that the event has assumed elements of urban legend — the saga of the Great Sneaker Spill.

Sometimes referred to as the Great Shoe Spill, the tale recounts an event on May 27, 1990, when, during a sudden violent storm in the North Pacific, five shipping containers were swept off the deck of the freighter Hansea Carrier somewhere between Seoul and Seattle.

Of the 40-foot steel boxes that broke loose and crashed into the ocean, one sank to the bottom and four broke open to spill out a stream of contents that included computer monitors, sex toys and 61,280 Nike sneakers destined for America’s basketball courts and city streets.

… cartons from McDonald’s takeout meals … Greg Staley

The incident went on to become a parable of environmental disaster, as well as a red-letter event in the history of sneakerheads. For months, the buoyant flotilla drifted, carried by wind and currents until, in early 1991, beachcombers reported coming upon batches of the sneakers off Vancouver Island in Canada, pushed north on the Davidson Current. That spring, driven southward by opposing breezes, more of them turned up along the coastlines of Washington and Oregon.

… and posters from a David Hockney exhibition. Greg Staley

The Great Sneaker Spill might have gone unremembered had it not been for the enterprising scavengers who washed and resold the flotsam and Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who, alerted to the spill’s existence by his mother, later used it as the basis for a study of little-known currents. Continue reading

What’s In A Name?

Europe’s main farming lobby group says it is “cultural hijacking” to place a vegan burger, right, in the same category as a beef burger. Carsten Koall/EPA, via Shutterstock; Daniel Roland/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since 2011 we have looked far and wide for information as well as inspiration related to our primary interest, entrepreneurial conservation.  Sometimes, instead of inspiration we find its dark counterpart, and the result is exasperation. Reducing consumption of animal protein has been just one topical focus in our pages. We have been inspired by the innovations around meat alternatives.

We know that what’s in a name is important to how we think about a product.  How we should refer to plant-based meat alternatives is one of those cases. Thanks to Isabella Kwai, today we see some potentially exasperating news from a region of the world we normally are inspired by, not least for its regulatory muscle:

E.U. Debates Whether a Veggie Burger Is Really a Burger

The European Parliament is voting on proposals that would ban products without meat from being labeled burgers or sausages, drawing ire from environmentalists and manufacturers.

LONDON — When is a burger not a burger? When it contains no meat, according to a divisive proposed amendment on which the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on Friday, part of a set of measures that would ban products without meat or dairy from using associated terms in their labeling. Continue reading

Feedlot Paradigm Progress

A dust cloud over the Bovina Cattle Company’s feed yard near Bovina, Texas.

As we all hopefully make progress on our reduction of meat consumption, Henry Fountain and George Steinmetz (photographs and video) add to our understanding of how cattle are raised now, and what could change to reduce the carbon footprint:

Belching Cows and Endless Feedlots: Fixing Cattle’s Climate Issues

The United States is home to 95 million cattle, and changing what they eat could have a significant effect on emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that are warming the world.

HAPPY, Texas — Randy Shields looked out at a sea of cattle at the sprawling Wrangler Feedyard — 46,000 animals milling about in the dry Panhandle air as a feed truck swept by on its way to their pens. Continue reading

Brewing, Tradition & Innovation

Trucks loaded with hops (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

Outside Magazine offers this primer on the ascendence of one of the key ingredients in one of the oldest fermented beverages:

How Hops Became the Star of American Brewing

The craft beer revolution turned the tall cousin of cannabis into a breakout ingredient, infusing your brew with flavors and aromas that range from stone fruit to barrel oak. Christopher Solomon hits the road to understand why hop madness isn’t over yet—and why brewers and plant breeders are always on the prowl for the next big thing.

Hop harvesting in Washington State’s Yakima Valley (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The 2019 American Hop Convention, held in January in Monterey, California, was part agriculture conference and part old-home week. Almost all of the nation’s beer hops—and roughly 40 percent of all hops in the world—are grown by about 75 farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, many of them owned by families who have farmed hops for four or five generations. At the convention, everybody seemed to know everybody. This gave a loose feel to the proceedings, which recognize and celebrate the fact that only one thing can be done with the crop the conventioneers produce: mix it with malt and water, ferment the liquid, and drink the beer you’ll get after a few weeks. During afternoon coffee breaks, everybody cracked a cold one.

That wasn’t the only reason for the festive mood. The past 15 years have witnessed a spectacular surge in craft brewing in the United States; more than 85 percent of Americans now live within ten miles of a brewery. U.S. beer culture, once a punchline, has become the most vibrant on earth.

Hop bines being loaded into a machine that shakes out the aromatic cones (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The hop industry has been a beneficiary and driver of this renaissance. Hops once were considered a drab ingredient, tossed in mainly to preserve the beer, thanks to antibacterial properties of the resins found in hop flowers, which are also called cones. Today, hops are the star of American brewing. Continue reading

If You Have IKEA Stuff, Note This

I am not a fan of IKEA. That said, I shopped there once, as a younger parent. There seemed no other choice at the time, and I did not regret it until I became more acutely conscious of the perils posed by this business model. Thanks to Olivia Rosane at EcoWatch for sharing this story, which I missed in the Guardian because I scan the Environment section and usually skip the Business section (note to self):

IKEA to Buy Back Used Furniture This Black Friday in 27 Countries

IKEA created the world’s longest outdoor bookcase on Bondi Beach, Australia to celebrate its 30th birthday and promote literacy on Jan. 31, 2010. James D. Morgan / Contributor / Getty Images News

Swedish furniture giant IKEA has a plan to make this year’s Black Friday a little greener.

As part of its bid to become more sustainable, the store will allow customers to sell back their used furniture for up to half of its original price.

Sustainability is the defining issue of our time and IKEA is committed to being part of the solution to promote sustainable consumption and combat climate change,” UK and Ireland IKEA retail manager Peter Jelkeby told The Guardian. Continue reading

When The Going Gets Tough, Pick Farm-Fresh Edibles

The strawberry patch at Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville, Md. Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thanks to Tove Danovich, whose work we are happy to see again after too long a stretch:

U-Pick Is a Popular Pandemic Pick-Me-Up

Strawberry fields, apple orchards and pumpkin patches have seen high volumes of visitors, most of whom have been on their best behavior.

U-pick farms — the choose-your-own-fruit-and-vegetable patches that draw droves each summer and fall — have been especially busy this year. Some farms have been so picked over that they’ve had to close their fields for a day or longer to let new fruit ripen.

With apple-and-pumpkin season in full swing, that popularity is continuing, and u-picks have adapted accordingly. Weekend festivals are out. Mask wearing is in. Most locations have introduced ticketed and timed entry, and created prepaid packages for produce and other amenities, like hay rides, to limit face-to-face interaction. Continue reading

Milo, Mushroom Clubs & Mylo

Mylo, a material made from mycelium, in natural and black. Bolt Threads

Milo’s teen years convinced me of the wonders of fungi. The Mushroom Club of Georgia was in the right place at the right time for him to convert intense curiosity into something more powerful. On another day, more on what he has done with that in the decade since. For now a bit of thanks. We have had the privilege of hosting members of that Club in our home in Costa Rica, and intend to do so again now that travel restrictions have eased. This post is an overdue shout out to that Club and others like it. More kids in those clubs would be a good thing. Meanwhile, nice to see these folks making news again. It helps persuade me that fashion is of greater value than I have given it credit for up to now:

Fungus May Be Fall’s Hottest Fashion Trend

A surprising group of fashion rivals including Stella McCartney and Lululemon are joining forces to back Mylo, a new mushroom leather.

Bolt Threads mycelium mats in the grow facility. Bolt Threads

It may be fashion week in Paris, with showgoers in face coverings parsing runway looks from the latest designer ready-to-wear collections, but several thousand miles away from the French capital, out of the dank, dark belly of an industrial hangar, a potentially more momentous industry trend is … growing.

Mushroom leather might not sound stylish. But Bolt Threads, a start-up that specializes in developing next-generation fibers inspired by nature, is one of a growing number of companies convinced that the material is a viable replacement — in both form and function — for animal-sourced and synthetic skins. Continue reading

What Is The New Better?

A woman sits at the counter at a Pret a Manger.

When the pandemic stopped people from going to their offices, in March, Pret a Manger was an immediate economic casualty.Photograph by Isabel Infantes / AFP / Getty

A gifted observer, Sam Knight captures in the plight of a sandwich chain the puzzle for most of us in retail, hospitality, and other high contact professions. The question is obvious and the answer is not: what now? The founders of the chain, whose advice is sought in this context, tell the CEO to go back to the origins of the business model which was about, in their words, “killing sacred cows.” By the end of his observation, the journalist attempts to get some resolution and this is what we get:

…I asked Christou if he woke up in the morning wishing that life could return to how it was—which is what Pret a Manger, with its affective labor, its illusion of luxury and freedom, signifies for most of us. He said no. “I want things to be better,” he said. “What the new better is, I guess at the moment we don’t know.”

Where Your Music Collection Comes From, And Goes To

I caught up on reading I had missed when it was first published. It is rare for me to miss a Dylan profile, but in May, 1999 I was preparing for our first lodge management project, so no wonder. Alex Ross avoids the tedium that makes me often wish I had not bothered with a Dylan profile. I recommend the profile whether or not you care about Dylan. If not just for clear writing, the quality of the cultural observation transcends the main subject.

Today I am happy to have read another article by Alex Ross, this one much shorter. If you watch the video above it will give a good indication of whether you will find the article worth your while. It reviews the ideas in the book to the left, which offers a great segue from yesterday’s post. We are learning to be more aware of where the things we consume come from, and what it took to produce them, store them, deliver them, and the footprint they leave from production and after consumption:

Listening to music on the Internet feels clean, efficient, environmentally virtuous. Instead of accumulating heaps of vinyl or plastic, we unpocket our sleek devices and pluck tunes from the ether. Music has, it seems, been freed from the grubby realm of things. Kyle Devine, in his recent book, “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” thoroughly dismantles that seductive illusion. Like everything we do on the Internet, streaming and downloading music requires a steady surge of energy. Continue reading

Upcycled Foods, Circa Late 2020

The first time I saw upcycling in action, I did not know the word. It became part of my vocabulary in 2012. And then I started seeing it more frequently, but only years later before I would see it in relation to food. Now it is more mainstream, but this PBS news segment shocked me anyway, with the revelation of how much waste there is in the production of tofu. In my experience growing up in the USA, tofu was one of the first “green foods” on the market. Little did we know. Shock is sometimes followed by awe. Case in point: Renewal Mill is providing solutions to tofu production waste and other forms of food waste that seem obvious once you see them do it. But first, someone had to do it. I have not tasted their products yet but I am confident I would savor it on multiple dimensions.

Tasting An Ethiopian Coffee Propelled To Stardom

Archie Bland being served a very expensive cup (glass) of coffee at Queens of Mayfair. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

In 2018 and 2019 I had the opportunity to sample many of Costa Rica’s best coffees. We were narrowing our selection from dozens of excellent options down to one dozen that we would offer in our shops. Just prior to opening the shops, a friend generously gifted a bag of coffee from one of Panama’s premier growers. They had made the news for the auction price of one of their finest coffees and our bag was not from that lot, but still it was by far the most expensive coffee I have ever tasted. It was an experience like tasting fine wine, as the story below describes. The coffee was excellent. I would drink more if it was gifted but I am not holding my breath waiting. We drink excellent coffee in our home every day, and we sell plenty of it to others as well. I will leave it to the journalists to tell these stories:

‘Reminds me of vegetable soup’: how does a £50 cup of coffee taste?

It is the most expensive sold in the UK and served in a goblet, but is this Ethiopian brew worth the hype?

For £50, you can buy a return flight to Paris from London or Manchester, or a set of Liberty facemasks, or a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

Or, if you’re feeling really fancy, you could go to Mayfair, and have a cup of coffee. Well, a goblet of it, to be precise.

This is the USP of Queens of Mayfair, a central London cafe that weathered a corona-cursed first few months to become a popular venue for well-heeled locals in search of a brew and a posh donut. Continue reading

Brilliant & Ominous

When you genuinely smile and then recoil a moment later, you are responding to what this artist wants you to see and then understand. The animation is brilliant and its short message on how ocean litter/marine plastic is harming marine life is ominous. The  Artist Statement that accompanies it is not required reading, but it is there for the taking:

Two years ago, an experience on a small island inTaiwan changed my life. It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a ten minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs still lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it was a part of nature. Continue reading

Getting Real About Plastic

A worker examines plastic bottles at a recycling center in Santiago, Chile. MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We admit to optimism as recently as three months ago on this issue, which we have been reading about since five years ago. Thanks to Jim Robbins for keeping it real:

Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem

Coca-Cola’s new PlantBottle is made from 30 percent sugar cane and other plants, with the rest made from traditional oil-based plastic. COCA-COLA

Bioplastics are being touted by industry marketers as the solution to plastics pollution. But the idea that bottles and packaging made of plant-based material can simply be discarded and then break down and disappear is false – recycling and reuse are the only strategies that can work.

Coca-Cola calls it the PlantBottle — a new kind of recyclable plastic container, 30 percent of which is made from sugar cane and other plants, with the remaining 70 percent made from traditional oil-based plastic. The company says that PlantBottle packaging now accounts for nearly a third of its North American bottle volume and seven percent globally. Continue reading

Sociology As A Moderator Of Economics

Zeynep Tufekci speaking at a conference in Munich. “I’ve just been struck by how right she has been,” said a Harvard epidemiologist. Credit: Felix Hörhager/Picture Alliance

By the time Zeynep Tufekci appeared in our pages last year I had been reading her analytical essays and op-eds for a while, and found her perspective on technology consistently clarifying. My instinctive apprehension about social media, which I could not explain, combined with my vague optimism about technology more broadly, which I also could not explain–found something to orient with in her writings. Now she makes an appearance through the lens of a keen observer of our media. What is keen about the observation is the attention to the sociological foundations of her perspective. With all that economics has done, for better and for worse, the influence of that dismal science has been ascendent for much of the modern era. Sociology has never had the prestige or influence in the USA that the field of economics has, and this profile hints at what this may have cost us:

How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right

Dr. Tufekci, a computer programmer who became a sociologist, sounded an early alarm on the need for protective masks. It wasn’t the first time she was right about something big.

Dr. Tufekci at a 2017 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. Credit:Julia Reinhart/ Getty Images

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans in January that they didn’t need to wear masks, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic and the editor of the Blood Cancer Journal, couldn’t believe his ears.

But he kept silent until Zeynep Tufekci (pronounced ZAY-nep too-FEK-chee), a sociologist he had met on Twitter, wrote that the C.D.C. had blundered by saying protective face coverings should be worn by health workers but not ordinary people. Continue reading

Consider Switching Your Search Engine

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Christian Kroll was inspired to change the direction of his life after travelling through India

I remember testing Ecosia in 2013, when we were based in India. For some reason I no longer recall it did not remain my default search engine then. But after reading again about it now–and more about its founder’s ideas and expectations, and most importantly his actions–I was intrigued enough to do another test. Not exhaustive, but I compared the search results on Ecosia versus Google for a bunch of words and phrases that are of interest to me. Since Ecosia is connected to Bing I did not need to compare those results. Result? I have just made Ecosia my default search engine, for the reasons Mr. Kroll expected I would. And if for any reason I decide to switch back, this time I will report why here. But I do not expect to. This is an attempt to be consistent with my own expectations. Thanks to Suzanne Bearne for bringing this/him back to my attention:

The search engine boss who wants to help us all plant trees

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It supports 20 tree-planting projects in 15 different countries. Photo: JOSHI GOTTLIEN.

The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to Christian Kroll, the founder and chief executive of internet search engine Ecosia.

Christian Kroll wants nothing less than to change the world.

“I want to make the world a greener, better place,” he says.

“I also want to prove that there is a more ethical alternative to the kind of greedy capitalism that is coming close to destroying the planet.” Continue reading