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How to Center Environmental Justice in Conservation Finance Projects

Claudia Baldwin



Environmental justice in land conservation requires practitioners to slow down and consider the foundations that exclude or enable relationships with and control over land. The following stories highlight three organizations using conservation finance strategies to advance environmental justice outcomes.

Each considers the history and context that has led to the land ownership, land use patterns, policy decisions and wealth accumulation in the places where these groups work. In each story, participants have asked: Why is this so? They have spent time listening to community groups and tribal nations to understand what these groups desire, and have worked creatively to identify solutions towards these aims. These organizations are working in the intersections between land and human justice, giving consideration to the intertwined rights of natural and human communities.

In these cases, justice means broadening the definition of conservation to ensure more people benefit, using conservation funds in new ways in order to ensure co-benefits and expanding the group of people with power to make decisions about land use.

The story of the Swinomish Forest Bank illustrates how ecosystem markets can be inaccessible to Indigenous peoples due to histories of land fractionation and presents a strategy that respects and acknowledges this history while also creating new legal structures to enable that access.
Greenprint Partners’ work with the city of Peoria illustrates how community organizing strategies can use public investments in green infrastructure to support community benefits.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is using its philanthropic funding to expand the diversity of people working in the conservation field, encouraging conservation organizations to better connect with justice efforts, and funding organizing capacity at a local, grassroots level in BIPOC communities.

Each effort broadens the definition of what is considered a conservation organization and what is imperative for conservation groups to consider.

Swinomish Forest Bank

The traditional territory of the Swinomish Indian tribe extended throughout the Salish Sea region of northwest Washington state, and includes the lands surrounding the Skagit and Samish River Valleys; the Skagit, Padilla and Fidalgo bays; and the Fidalgo, Camano, Whidbey and San Juan Islands.

Today, land managed by the Swinomish has been reduced to a 15-square mile reservation on Fidalgo Island. Within the designated reservation boundaries exists a checkerboard of public, private and tribally owned lands; private lands are owned by both Swinomish citizens and non-Swinomish people. The Swinomish Tribal Government owns in trust and in fee a very small percentage of the overall reservation land in a patchwork of small, non-contiguous parcels. The tribe has been working for many years to knit together land, and especially forestland, within the reservation. It currently holds title to about 1,200 of the reservation’s 4,500 acres of forestland. Due to this heavily fragmented landscape, the Swinomish have faced significant barriers to implementing landscape-level forest management strategies.

In 2014, the Swinomish asked Ecotrust, a nonprofit that works across the Pacific Northwest to support equitable, climate-resilient land stewardship and economic development, for help developing a new forest management plan. The Swinomish had previously worked with Ecotrust and appreciated both its forestry expertise and willingness to work collaboratively in order to advance Swinomish goals. The Swinomish sought Ecotrust’s technical expertise towards their wish to unify land management practices across their fragmented acreage.

Today, the loss of tribal lands combined with the mixed ownership patterns within reservation boundaries poses serious challenges for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian nations.

One strategy involved creating a forest bank, a new legal entity wherein the owners of individual parcels of land (which in this case could include the Swinomish Tribal Government, tribal members or non-tribal residents) enroll in the forest bank. The forest bank manages and harvests enrolled parcels according to a unified forest management plan, enabling landscape-scale management strategies that are impossible on small parcels.

Many climate-resilient forest management practices, a priority for the Swinomish, are only possible on this large scale. As the Indian Land Tenure Foundation says, “Today, the loss of tribal lands combined with the mixed ownership patterns within reservation boundaries poses serious challenges for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian nations.” The Swinomish’s checkerboarded and fractionated landscape exists due to the imposition of private property boundaries atop traditional, collective management regimes. The legacies of fractionation have harmed the tribe’s ability to control their land.

Fractionation formed part of the process of colonization. The United States Government imposed private property ownership structures and oversight systems on the traditional territories of Native Americans. The government defined a system of reservations and restricted Native Americans to only these areas, often a mere fraction of the size of traditional territories. In so doing, the government forced participation in the U.S.’ private property frameworks rather than respecting many Native Americans’ collective and relational conceptions of land and land use migration patterns. These actions took place by force, by treaty and by allotment.

This Salmon River stretch shows the value of centering equity, even when working that way feels like swimming upstream. Photo via Ecotrust.

In 1855, the U.S. Government and the Swinomish tribe signed the Treaty of Point Elliot, which defined 15 square miles on Fidalgo Island as the Swinomish reservation. Despite this, the Swinomish had to fight to protect their treaty-defined land base in 1873, when President Ulysses Grant attempted to further reduce their land base (a move which the U.S. Supreme Court blocked). Within the 1887 General Allotment Act (which many call the Dawes Act) the U.S. government awarded 40- to 160-acre parcels of land within the reservation to individual families, both Native American and settlers, with the aims of encouraging the establishment of settled, agrarian societies. As these parcels went to successive generations, land was subdivided and fragmented into smaller parcels (thus the term fractionation).

Due to this history, typical barriers to landscape-level management and accessing markets for ecosystem services such as parcel size, forest cover and composition, and past management regimes are compounded. Unifying land through a forest bank would aggregate management across parcels with the potential for both climate resilient and financially beneficial outcomes. The Swinomish anticipated that a large carbon credit sale might help them “seed” the forest bank: Proceeds from the sale would create a source of capital to allow purchase of more acreage and compensate individual landowners for ecosystem services.

In 2015, Ecotrust and the Swinomish received a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant to support their work to revise the Swinomish Forest Management Plan. The partners established a stakeholder group of tribal members to provide input on the project. Brent Davies at Ecotrust said about the committee: “Rather than practice co-management, we were seeking to put indigenous communities in the driver’s seat.” This involved both carefully considering the Swinomish’s wishes for how forest resources could be managed using climate-smart practices and considering different governance models for establishing the forest bank within the legal constructs governing tribally owned and managed lands.

Unifying land through a forest bank would aggregate management across parcels with the potential for both climate resilient and financially beneficial outcomes.

Because there are few forest bank models, Ecotrust and the Swinomish worked together to envision what an appropriate structure and entity might look like. The Swinomish and Ecotrust together completed their new forest management plan in 2018, which includes an intention to establish a forest bank. Ecotrust and the Swinomish continue to work together towards this aim.

Peoria, Illinois, and Greenprint Partners

Peoria, Illinois, contains one of the poorest zip codes in the country and is a majority-minority community. In 2006, the EPA declared Peoria in violation of the Clean Water Act due to stormwater and sewer overflows, and mandated that the city address these hazards. Although underfunding has resulted in significant infrastructure failures, Peoria’s leaders have sought to use philanthropic and public capital to upgrade infrastructure while also investing in community assets.

Peoria is not unique. Because of histories of disinvestment and redlining (racially discriminatory mortgage lending practices), many urban areas have underfunded and failing infrastructure. In 2014, Peoria won a Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation award to create a Chief Innovation Officer staff position. With this added capacity, the city contacted Greenprint Partners, a women-run, green stormwater design and project engineering firm. The city needed to make large public investments to comply with the EPA mandate, and wanted to work with a partner who could help them creatively deploy these funds to also benefit the community.

Greenprint says on its website that it aims to develop equitable, scalable, holistic stormwater solutions that also revitalize neighborhoods, increase public health and safety and create new job opportunities in low- to moderate-income communities. A key element of Greenprint’s model is to thoughtfully deploy large public investments in infrastructure to simultaneously incorporate community benefits and community goals. As co-founder and CEO April Mendez commented: “We believe that infrastructure could be developed and designed with communities in mind, but only if the community is centered from the beginning.”

Rather than rely upon traditional, expert-driven infrastructure project models, Greenprint asked the community what their goals were and figured out how to create infrastructure that would satisfy them.

The city of Peoria was a great partner, said Mendez, because it was willing to “design green stormwater infrastructure with the perspective that the parts of the community that most needed this infrastructure also needed other organizational supports.” With support from a $940,800 grant from the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grant program, Greenprint established a stakeholder advisory group that was representative of the full community’s demographics.

Greenprint asked this group what they needed and what they wanted to see in their community. Rather than rely upon traditional, expert-driven infrastructure project models, Greenprint asked the community to say what their goals were and figured out how to create infrastructure that would satisfy those goals. The advisory group identified local employment opportunities, access to healthy food and accessible urban green spaces as priorities.

Together, Greenprint, the city of Peoria and the stakeholder advisory group decided to develop a 1.5-acre farm that can slow, sink and store stormwater runoff while also providing job training and educational opportunities in growing food and running a farm business. Greenprint facilitated a placemaking visioning exercise, inviting community members to share ideas about what the farm might look like, and the types of infrastructure it would have. The farm was intentionally located in one of the poorest parts of Peoria, thus ensuring that both its stormwater retention and job training benefits stayed in the community of most need. The project team named this farm The Well Farm. In major rainstorms since this infrastructure was installed, it has absorbed 98 percent of rainfall.

Greenprint seeks to bring principles from its founders’ community organizing backgrounds to its work. Although Mendez acknowledged that equity-centered work can cost more in staff and design time, she said: “Community engagement changes the end product … It’s not box-checking, it’s about changing the design of what you’re building … It’s important to have the creativity to design things from a multi-benefit and place-making perspective and not just think about putting the facility in the ground.”

This multi-benefit perspective has had important ripple effects. This project is one that the community is excited about and will benefit from in multiple ways. It also has created potential opportunities for public utilities and public infrastructure funding programs to simultaneously fund equity and community development outcomes. Greenprint estimates that for every $1 invested in establishing Well Farm, $1.50 in community benefits flow out.

Greenprint estimates that for every $1 invested in establishing Well Farm, $1.50 in community benefits flow out.

Upon its completion in 2019, the $1.9 million Well Farm received a number of accolades from green infrastructure thought leaders, industry groups and foundations. These include the prestigious U.S. Water Prize from the U.S. Water Alliance. Other recognition came from the Illinois Green Alliance Emerald Award and the Sun Foundation Making Waves Award.

This project also informs Peoria’s stated goal to address its clean water mandates with entirely green infrastructure. Greenprint is working with the National Green Stormwater Infrastructure Exchange to design an educational accelerator program to train other municipal planning and finance entities who are interested in implementing similar “water equity” projects. With the recently signed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act committing $55 billion to wastewater, stormwater and drinking water infrastructure, there is an opportunity to use public funds to support community benefits and water infrastructure goals simultaneously.

The Doris Duke Charitable Organization

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (“Doris Duke” for short) has rethought its goals and processes to better root its grantmaking in equitable decision-making and work under an expanded definition of conservation. Four programs of the foundation highlight this evolution.

In 2020, according to Green 2.0, about 30 percent of staff, 25 percent of leadership and 32 percent of board members at U.S. environmental nonprofits identified as people of color. Each metric has increased significantly since 2017 when Green 2.0 began compiling this data. Doris Duke has carefully considered who holds power and positions in the environmental movement, and it has reoriented grantmaking in support of a more diverse talent pipeline. For many years, the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program supported masters-level students in environmental studies and land conservation. In 2013, Doris Duke changed the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program to fund college-age, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color) young people to build conservation careers. By funding students at the undergraduate level, Doris Duke seeks to create earlier exposure to environmental work for BIPOC youth, making this a more tangible professional path. Building a diverse pipeline of young conservation practitioners will help facilitate a more diverse group of staff and leadership at environmental non-profits.

Doris Duke’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Capacity Building Program was created in 2020 to provide capacity to both white- and BIPOC-led conservation organizations. Doris Duke awarded two-year grants of up to $60,000 to organizations ranging in size from The Conservation Fund (with hundreds of staff) to the Utah Din? Bik?yah (eight staff), to support staff engagement in diversity, equity, and inclusion capacity building, organizational assessments and structural changes.

Building a diverse pipeline of young conservation practitioners will help facilitate a more diverse group of staff and leadership at environmental non-profits.

Doris Duke’s new “Inclusive Conservation” grant program launched in 2021. Doris Duke partnered with an advisory committee of conservation practitioners who primarily represent and serve BIPOC communities to develop this program, which invests in “culturally driven and community-centered conservation work that builds more positive outcomes for biodiversity, nature and people.” These expanded parameters of what conservation is create a broader set of activities for Doris Duke to fund. The advisory committee nominated organizations who could then apply for grants.

This program awarded long-term, unrestricted, $300,000 grants to five organizations (‘Aina Momona, Ekvn-Yefolecv, McIntosh S.E.E.D., Native Movement and Soul Fire Farm) for the work that each organization does to “prioritize the bridge between environmental and land justice” and “in recognition of and contribution to the pivotal leadership roles they play” in doing inclusive, human- and equity-centered conservation work.

Doris Duke and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, together with the Prevention Institute, created the People, Parks, and Power program to geographically redistribute where conservation dollars go. These partners initiated this partnership in 2021 in order to support community organizations “working in urban, low-income communities of color across the United States to increase park equity through local policy and systems change.”

Histories of racially exclusionary housing finance (redlining and racially restricted federal lending programs) and racial covenants prohibiting home ownership by people of color or other ethnic groups have shaped today’s cities. Historically redlined neighborhoods typically are made up of majority renters, have less-well funded schools, have fewer public funds invested in natural amenities and are often majority BIPOC communities. Black, Latinx and Asian communities are more likely to live in historically redlined and today, nature-deprived areas — meaning, areas without access to trees, streams or parks, or poorly maintained park amenities — and thus less access to the benefits parkland offers, such as physical exercise, mental well-being and clean air, water and cooling.

Black, Latinx and Asian communities are more likely to live in historically redlined and today, nature-deprived areas.

Lack of urban access to green space is also a result of the rural bias of land conservation. This is a result of factors such as the funding priorities of private, philanthropic and public conservation funders and the fact that conventionally defined biodiversity conservation targets (presence of large carnivores or minimum acreage thresholds) most often are found in the large tracts of undeveloped land more readily found in rural landscapes.

Because conservation is reliant on philanthropic gifts to support its work, it often happens nearer to where well-resourced communities live. As Sawyer Cresap commented in her recent article on equitable conservation finance: “Low-income communities and communities of color are markedly deprived of access to privately conserved open spaces and less frequently affiliated with private land conservation as land donors, visitors, members, staff or board.” Conservation dollars are much less often invested in urban landscapes, and the outcomes that conservation organizations seek to achieve have been defined by perspectives and beliefs that give less weight to urban parklands.

Doris Duke seeks to support the organizations and community members working on the ground to address the underlying reasons why certain places are underserved by park and other infrastructure.

As it brings a portion of its grantmaking into urban areas, it hopes to not only improve green spaces in urban areas, but more importantly to seed power and capacity among local groups. It seeks to support these groups in building new narratives and greater participation, access to resources and authority over land use decisions.

Philanthropy “holds normative power to make things mainstream and render them visible” through deciding what to fund and which stories to elevate, said Sean Thackurdeen, program associate for the Environment at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Through continued consideration of how it invests philanthropic dollars, Doris Duke seeks to give both resources and power to BIPOC communities, enabling them to create, implement and share their visions for what land conservation could be.


These case studies showcase ways in which some conservation practitioners are taking responsibility for the histories, policies, stories and circumstances that have led to the patterns of land and wealth ownership we see today. These patterns are rooted in discriminatory practices such as fractionation and redlining, which have harmed many non-white communities and restricted their ability to own and manage land. Said in a different way, traditional measures of conservation success will feed off longstanding and systemically reinforced inequities in wealth, power and control, and will continue to produce inequitable outcomes in who the benefits of land and resource conservation accrue to.

Without directional shifts and justice-oriented recalibrations, those with historical access to resources such as land will be able to access conservation benefits predicated on land ownership and accumulate additional and compounding wealth, while those who have been systematically denied access to land will not have the same opportunity.

How can these groups’ willingness to listen and learn and change serve as models?

The organizations above have sought to ensure that the outcomes and benefits of their work do not only accrue to those who already have resources. In place-based, historically informed and community-defined ways, they have both broadened and expanded what conservation is and who conservation is for. They are working with and ceding power to new partners. How can these groups’ willingness to listen and learn and change serve as models? How might these examples inspire future steps along the long journey towards just conservation?

Practitioner reflections

How would your organization answer the questions, “Why does property ownership in our landscape look the way that it does? How is unequal access to land and wealth evident in your operating area today? What historical responsibility might you, individually or organizationally, hold? What could your organization or firm’s role in addressing these histories be?”
How would your organization answer the questions, “What is the conservation we practice, and who is it for?
Who has authority and decision-making power in your organization? How do you partner with other groups in your community? Who is in the ‘driver’s seat’ in your partnership projects?”
What are the specific histories of Native American communities in your region? Who used to call your current region home (see Which Native American communities continue to call this place home? If they are no longer here, where did they go (see
What do the actions of Ecotrust, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Greenprint make you think about? Is there anything in the above three case studies that your organization might consider adopting?
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Is Climate Tech the Hottest Corner of the VC Business in the 2020s?

Claudia Baldwin



This is an excerpt from “Climatenomics: Washington, Wall Street, and the Economic Battle to Save Our Planet” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

While government policies and leadership from Washington can help accelerate change, there’s another place that can accelerate change much faster: Silicon Valley.

In 2003, as a national technology reporter for a chain of newspapers, I visited the Mountain View, California campus of Google to meet with cofounder Sergey Brin. At the time, Google was still a private company, though there was widespread speculation that it would launch an initial public offering soon. The moment I pulled into the company parking lot, I got a taste that Google wasn’t a typical company. Covering many of the parking spaces were canopies made from solar panels, something that’s commonplace today but back then was pretty unusual. Even more unusual were the thick power cords hanging down from the panels over nearly every parking space, something that didn’t make sense until Brin and team later explained it to me. At the time, electric vehicles were even more uncommon than solar parking lot canopies (the first Tesla wouldn’t hit the streets for another five years). But Google knew EVs were coming someday soon, and it wanted to be ready. Google also wanted employees and other visitors to think about the possibilities that could come with solar-powered parking lots and cars that you could plug in to refuel.

Two of the forward-thinking people responsible for Google’s early solar deployment were Chris Sacca, who as the company’s corporate counsel and later head of special initiatives was involved in Google’s energy purchase agreements, and Andrew Beebe, who was chief commercial officer at solar company Suntech, which helped Google go solar.

“There really wasn’t any corporate interest until those guys stepped up and said, ‘Please build solar arrays all over our campus,'” Beebe recalled during a GreenBiz VERGE [climate] tech conference in October 2021. “But (Google executives) also said, ‘Set it up so we can have Walmart and Cisco and Microsoft and all of our competitors come over and see what we have done.’ They obviously had a hugely catalytic role in making all this happen.”

Both Beebe and Sacca would go on to become successful venture capitalists, Beebe with Obvious Ventures, the firm that helped launch companies such as Medium, Beyond Meat and electric bus maker Proterra, and Sacca with his firm called Lowercase Capital, which funded companies such as Twitter, Uber and Instagram. For about three years, Sacca also was a “guest shark” on the ABC television show “Shark Tank,” where budding entrepreneurs bid for the favor — and the funding — of millionaire investors. But it didn’t take long before Sacca was feeling unfulfilled by funding kitchen gadget start-ups on “Shark Tank” or electronic-gaming companies back in Silicon Valley. He, like Beebe, turned his attention almost fully toward clean-energy and climate-related investments.

Sacca and Beebe represent one of the hottest corners of the venture capital business in the 2020s: climate tech. Some of the companies that investors like them are backing today will likely become the Googles of tomorrow. Only instead of changing the way we search for stuff on the Internet, climate tech companies will change the way we source and store our energy, grow our food, and move from point A to point B, whether on land, water, or air. In doing so, they’ll not only transform our economy, but help save the planet.

In 2021, investments in climate tech companies hit more $31 billion, according to deal tracking firm PitchBook. That was 30 percent more than in 2020 and more than 2.5 times what it was in 2019. Those big numbers will likely only get bigger as federal, state and international clean climate and clean-energy policies are implemented. Quite simply, government policies and funding help reassure venture capitalists and other private investors to put more of their money at risk.

In 2021, investments in climate tech companies hit more $31 billion, according to deal tracking firm PitchBook.

Climate-tech and clean-tech investing is no longer just about solar or wind or even batteries anymore. Those businesses now attract plenty of mainstream investors. They’re almost like investing in restaurants or real estate — they’re too passe for venture capitalists who are more interested in finding more disruptive technologies that can scale quickly and create big returns.

“What we look at every day are energy innovations that are just insane, some of which are doing things that Einstein declared literally would not be possible,” Sacca said at the VERGE conference. “We see stuff happening in synthetic biology, for instance, that’s just nuts.”

Amid the hellish fires in the West, back-to-back hurricanes in the East and scientists everywhere warning that things were only going to get worse, Sacca in August 2021 stepped away from Lowercase Capital, quit “Shark Tank,” and with wife Crystal turned his attention specifically toward figuring out how to fund and support companies trying to do more to address climate change. The couple launched a new investment fund called Lowercarbon Capital. In a matter of days, they raised more than $800 million that Lowercarbon Capital could deploy to try to “un— the planet,” in Sacca’s terms. The fund was so popular, Sacca wrote on Lowercarbon Capital’s blog, that it had to turn investors away. “It turns out that raising for a climate fund in the context of an unprecedented heatwave and from behind the thick clouds of fire smoke probably didn’t hurt,” he wrote.

Since then, Lowercarbon has invested in companies that capture carbon dioxide and turn it into consumer products, reduce carbon emissions from livestock and fertilizers on the farm, and mine materials that are key to batteries and storage in ways that don’t destroy the environment. One such company is Twelve, a Bay Area start-up that “upcycles” carbon dioxide captured from industrial emissions and turns it into everything from jet fuel to sunglasses lenses, replacing fossil fuels and plastic. Another company Sacca was particularly excited about in 2021 was Lilac Solutions, which has raised $150 million to commercialize its lithium-mining technology. Lilac claims it can produce the essential element for batteries 10,000 times faster than conventional methods, using 90 percent less land and water. Lowercarbon Capital has also made numerous major investments in companies at the intersection of agriculture and climate, including start-up Formo, which is following the Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger model to make fine European cheeses that don’t require dairy or cows; Entocycle, which has figured out how to speed up the gestation period for black soldier fly larvae which happen to be some of the world’s fastest converters of food waste to protein; and Nitricity, which uses solar-powered modules placed around farms to literally make fertilizer out of thin air by converting and processing nitrates found in the atmosphere.

If garbage-eating fly larvae and fine cheeses bioengineered in a sterile laboratory don’t sound like appealing business models, think again. According to research group Climate Tech VC, food-and-water-related climate tech was the biggest sector for climate venture funding in 2021, followed by mobility, consumer goods, and clean energy. Tech investors’ take on food and agriculture is yielding new high-tech twists in one of the world’s oldest and most established economic sectors. Seattle-based clean-agriculture start-up Nori, for instance, got its start in 2017 when its cofounders entered a hackathon contest for coders to figure out new ways to use blockchain technology for social good. Far from the nearest farm, what they came up with was a way to use blockchain technology to monitor and track low-carbon agriculture practices and then monetize that by selling farm-based carbon-removal offsets.

In doing so, Nori is incentivizing farmers to use more climate-friendly agriculture practices that don’t just reduce carbon emissions but actually increase the ability of soil and crops to store carbon, while also creating a new marketplace for carbon removal and trading. In 2020, Nori raised more than $5 million in seed funding to launch its platform. “We call it climate-smart agriculture — thinking of carbon removal like a crop,” Christophe Jospe, a Nori cofounder, told E2.

This excerpt has been updated since publication.

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Walmart Begins Search for Sustainable Packaging

Claudia Baldwin



“We don’t have time to waste.” With this imperative tagline, American retail giant Walmart launched its Circular Connector this spring.

The goal: to accelerate innovation in the field of sustainable and circular packaging, creating a bridge between companies looking for packaging that has less impact on the environment and those with new solutions to offer.

Searching for sustainable packaging

That the world’s largest retail multinational is launching an online platform to encourage the circular economy of packaging — even while accounting for some form of greenwashing — is undoubtedly great news.

After all, it’s a fact that consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the problem of plastic pollution and in general to any aspect related to the sustainability of products. And Walmart, the retail chain of over 10,000 stores around the world, is held accountable by consumers on a daily basis.

Hence the ambitious commitment that the multinational has set for itself by 2025: to achieve that 100 percent of packaging on its shelves would be either recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable. And hence the rush to find solutions to reach the goals.

It’s a fact that consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the problem of plastic pollution… And Walmart is held accountable by consumers on a daily basis.

The Circular Connector was therefore created as an online tool to connect packaging designers and manufacturers with companies in various sectors, from food to cosmetics, from fashion to toys. “Basically,” explains a statement on Walmart’s website, “it’s a platform to accelerate packaging innovation and implementation. We want to make it easier for suppliers and brands to find sustainable packaging solutions, thus enabling all of us to move faster toward waste reduction.”

How does the Circular Connector work?

The Circular Connector is accessed from the multinational company’s sustainability policy site, the Walmart Sustainability Hub. To participate, sustainable packaging manufacturers or designers must fill out a special questionnaire with a series of questions about the functions, materials and recyclability of the candidate packaging. Each proposal will then be reviewed according to Walmart’s packaging sustainability goals and, if compatible, will be posted on the site and made available to brands for possible supply contracts.

Reiterating, pragmatically, that they “don’t have time to waste,” the project leaders also made available the company’s Recycling Playbook, based on the two principles of recyclability established by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Namely: 1. Is there, in practice, a system for large-scale recycling of this category of packaging that guarantees at least a 30 percent recycling rate for over 400 million people? 2. Do the packaging components fit into that system?

Walmart’s handbook also contains valuable guidance on materials, such as those that are difficult to recycle and therefore tend to be excluded from sorting: metallic films, multi-layer materials, PVC or PVDC, PETG in rigid plastic packaging, oxo-degradable plastics and colored PET.

“We need to work together to promote innovative solutions on a large scale,” states Walmart. “Companies with reusable, refillable, recyclable and other sustainable packaging solutions should therefore come forward. There are hundreds of brands striving to achieve their own packaging sustainability goals, just like Walmart, and the Circular Connector is one tool available to them in this journey.”

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Episode 317: Conversations About Circularity

Claudia Baldwin



This week’s run time is 1:03:05.


Featuring a recap of interviews and stories from Circularity 22, held this week in Atlanta.

INTERVIEW: Jon Smieja, vice president of circularity and senior analyst for GreenBiz, reflects on hot topics and themes
STORY/AUDIO HIGHLIGHT: Planet vs. plastic: Three steps to solving the global plastics crisis (Featuring Keiran Smith, co-founder and CEO of Mr. Green Africa, on how to encourage decisions made at the local level.)
STORY/AUDIO HIGHLIGHT: John Warner: How to do the materials economy right (Featuring John Warner, senior vice president and research fellow of Zymergen, on how green chemistry could enable the leap to a regenerative, circular economy … if we educated chemists.)
CHITCHAT: Textile recycling tech startup triumphs in Circularity 22’s Accelerate competition
AUDIO HIGHLIGHT: Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO, Shelton Group (On the importance of shifting context; and what that disturbing baby wrapped in cellophane image teaches us about marketing circularity.)

More sustainable consumer goods (47:30)

Interview with new CEO Christy Slay of The Sustainability Consortium, about priorities, circularity and engaging nimble innovators.

*Music in this episode: Lee Rosevere: “Not My Problem” and “Let That Sink In”; ItsWatR: “Awakening Instrumental”


To make sure you don’t miss the newest episode of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].

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