Imagine a leading oil company cutting fossil-fuel production by 40 percent. Or a tech giant wiping out all the carbon it’s ever emitted. Or a wildly popular, multi-gazillion-dollar electronics maker switching to low-carbon materials. These kinds of shifts could have a major impact on our climate crisis, right? Too bad they’re so far-fetched.
BUT WAIT. They’re actually happening. And though I’ve never been one to wave pom-poms when corporations claim they’re going green, this moment feels different. As former Grist writer David Roberts puts it, “Climate change has moved out of the public-relations department, into the C-suite, and down to the shop floor.”
Roberts thoroughly probed Microsoft’s commitment to going carbon negative by 2030 and found that the plans hold water. It is one of the companies I mention above; the others are BP and Apple. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but these behemoths are in a position to make real change, even in the face of government inaction. (Yes, the Democratic convention was a pleasant surprise.)
Decades of activism, and good work by Fixers on the inside, is increasingly steering these companies in the right direction. Meanwhile, entirely new ways of doing business are gaining ground, as you’ll see in this week’s newsletter. Now the rest of us just need to keep the pressure on the big companies and do everything we can to support the smaller ones.
Give me a shout any time, and spread the word about Shift Happens.
— Chip, Grist and Fix founder
Your new hero
When it comes to big businesses that could use a makeover, the fashion industry is front and center. The apparel industry is the third-largest guzzler of water globally and its carbon emissions are off the charts. Something like $120 billion worth of new fabric goes to waste every year, winding up in a landfill or (gulp) burned. Enter Stephanie Benedetto, a 2020 Grist 50 Fixer, who is helping to create a solution to all that waste. Her company, Queen of Raw, gives textile sellers a new market to offer up excess fabrics, at a discount, to interested buyers.
With around 130,000 users on the platform, Benedetto says that Queen of Raw saved more than 1 billion gallons of water that would have gone into making new material, in just one three-month period recently. And it doesn’t end at textiles — she’s looking at offering similar second-life services for excess materials in the aviation and electronics industries. “Any business that has a supply chain creates waste,” she says. “It’s just a supply–demand mismatch and we can correct it.”
Your reading list
As we barrel toward the third decade of the 21st century, we seem to be having a wee bit of trouble finding that sweet spot where people’s basic needs are met, justice prevails, and we aren’t turning the planet into an ashen pile of dust and debris. Enter Doughnut Economics. In this dang readable book, self-styled “renegade economist” Kate Raworth of Oxford University explores how we can reframe our understanding of economics, what it will take to rebalance the global distribution of wealth, and why we must learn to live within the natural systems that surround us. Raworth has dedicated the last several years to exploring and promoting her doughnut-shaped economic framework, as well as co-founding the Doughnut Economics Action Lab. It’s good stuff. But do you think she ever just wakes up craving a bagel?
- Going halfsies. What? Did you know that large-scale electrification might cut energy demand in the U.S. by half? Meaning we’d only have to produce about half the energy with renewables that is currently produced with fossil. Boggles the mind.
- H2 whoa. Based on its energy needs, manufacturing is one problem that electrification won’t solve in the short term. Yet manufacturing currently produces about 20 percent of the world’s fossil-fuel pollution. What to do? Germany is leading the way with a COVID-era stimulus investment in one solution: “green hydrogen.” The full European Union may not be far behind.
- The wheel deal. Pineapple, mango, flaxseed — these aren’t just tasty smoothie ingredients. They’re also the components for a new electric motorcycle, made from recyclable and natural materials, and produced by Brooklyn-based startup Tarform.
- The name is bonds … green bonds. Our current system makes it difficult for arms of government, asset managers, and ordinary citizens to invest in a climate-friendly future. This proposed federal plan, dreamt up by a Cornell law professor, could change all that. (The words roll off the tongue … a National Investment Authority, a National Infrastructure Bank, a National Management Corporation …)
- Follow the red brick road. Your future home could be powered by the bricks it’s built with. ’Nuff said.
- Taking a megabyte out of carbon emissions. Apple’s Lisa Jackson is leading the tech giant’s equity initiatives, as well as its efforts to go carbon-neutral by 2030. The former EPA head spoke with us about how the company plans to make good on its lofty goals and shared her perspective on how big tech can fight for environmental justice.
Your weekend plans
Apple of my pie
OK, time to wash down all that corporate coddling with something far more digestible — pies made from for-real apples. My kids magically self-entertained this week with a couple of friends (everyone safely masked) by plucking apples from nearby trees and making magnificent pies. They followed recipes from Natasha’s Kitchen. See the apple-solutely delicious results above.
Butter Pie Crust (recipe, video)
- 2 ½ cup flour
- ½ Tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ lbs unsalted butter, cold
- 6 Tbsp ice water
- Pulse dry ingredients together in food processor
- Add diced butter and pulse until coarse crumbs and some pea-sized pieces form
- Add cold water and pulse until small balls of dough form. (Pinch a piece of dough between your fingers and if it sticks together, you’re done. If not, add more ice water one teaspoon at a time.)
- Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and gather into a ball. Do not knead (dough should not be smooth).
- Divide dough in half, flatten into two disks. Seal in some enviro-friendly way (that’s my euphemism for thinking creatively about plastic wrap) and refrigerate for one hour before using.
- 6-7 thinly sliced Granny Smith-like apples (or whatever a nearby tree may hold)
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 8 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg + 1 Tbsp water for egg wash
- Preheat oven to 425˚F.
- Sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, then simmer for a minute, whisking constantly. Whisk in water and sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue simmering for three minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat.
- Peel, remove cores, and thinly slice apples. Place them in a large bowl. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and toss to combine. Pour the sauce over the apples and stir to coat the apple slices.
- Sprinkle your work surface with flour and roll out bottom pie crust to a 12″-diameter circle. Wrap it around your rolling pin to transfer it to your pie plate. Add apple mixture, mounding slightly in the center.
- Roll second crust into an 11″ round and cut into 10 strips. Arrange them in a woven lattice pattern over the top. Beat together an egg and water and brush the top with egg mixture.
- Bake at 425˚F for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350˚F and continue baking another 45 minutes or until apples are soft and filling is bubbling.
- Resist the urge to dive in — let your masterpiece rest for an hour before serving.