The top 10 stories to catch you up on the hottest sustainability news in 2019 — so far

Business Review image
ShutterstockCastleski

Summer might be ending, but the extreme heat waves and storms this year brought won't stop any time soon. The good news is, businesses and individuals from all industries are making strides to combat climate change in 2019.

This year, GreenBiz has continued to track the progress of the clean economy for our sustainability-conscious readership. Thoughtful innovations are leading the charge, from zero-waste packaging to airless tires to regenerative agriculture.

During these dog days of summer, we rounded up the 10 stories that our readers collectively tuned into the most, in case you missed them or want a refresher. We hope this list will keep you inspired — and here’s to the stories of the clean economy that are still to come.  

1. A zero-waste packaging innovation launched in February, and blue-chip companies have been joining in droves since. We want to Loop you in.

Loop
Loop, a zero-waste system that recycles and refills high-quality packaging, attracted an impressive roster of consumer brands — and the largest GreenBiz readership this year. 

The system aims to eliminate the environmental consequences of disposability but also maintain its virtues, such as convenience, said Tom Szaky, CEO and co-founder of TerraCycle, the company that made Loop.

Big names such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Unilever are joining because they recognize the growing demand for sustainable products and packaging, but it remains to be seen whether consumers will match the enthusiasm, our executive editor wrote in this article. 

READ THE FULL STORY: Loop’s launch brings reusable packaging to the world’s biggest brands 

2. At the beginning of the year, the EAT-Lancet Commission released dietary guidelines for the "Great Food Transformation," which aims to achieve sustainable human and planetary health by 2050. The recommendations in their current form, argued our op-ed writer, nutrition consultant Erica Hauver, cannot accomplish either goal.

The Eat-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health sought to answer a critical question: "Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries?" Its answer — the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (PDF) — gives recommendations for global diets for the next 30 years. However, its findings have been controversial.

Contributor Hauver explores these recommendations and their shortcomings. She notes of the commissioned report: "First, it is founded on outdated, weak nutrition science. Second, the commission failed to achieve an international scientific consensus for its dietary targets, in spite of its claims to have done so. Third, it has suffered from biased, or at least unrepresentative, leadership."

The need for a sustainable food system and for transformational change within it are critical — and must be given the consideration deserve, argues Hauver. 

READ THE FULL STORY:  The inconvenient truths behind the 'Planetary Health' diet

3. Car owners know how scary tire blowouts can be, but this new development might offer them a peace of mind: Michelin is teaming up with General Motors to test airless tires.

Prototype of airless tires
A prototype of the Michelin Uptis technology — the potential benefits of airless tires include fewer punctures and reduced materials requirements.
"Airless tires" might sound like an oxymoron, but the iconic French tiremaker is looking for new ways to advance sustainable mobility. It’s doing just that with Uptis, a new generation of airless tires, made up of composite materials, which could decrease the amount of rubber and raw materials used. 

Their unique design, which bears the weight of cars at high speeds, also could improve passenger safety. They are likely to be quickly adopted in markets with higher rates of tire blowouts because of gnarly road conditions, such as India and China. 

Michelin and GM are testing them later this year and hope to make them commercially available by 2024, wrote GreenBiz’s editorial director, Heather Clancy. The ultimate vision is to produce "100 percent sustainable" tires, sourcing entirely from renewable or bio-sourced materials. 

READ THE FULL STORY: Michelin is letting the air out of its tires: Why that matters for sustainable mobility

4. We put out our fourth list of up-and-coming changemakers in the sustainability field. These twentysomethings represent what makes us hopeful about our work during these uncertain times.

One of our most widely-anticipated stories is our annual 30 Under 30 list. After nominations from the global GreenBiz community throughout the spring and much-appreciated partnership from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and BSR in gathering suggestions, the GreenBiz editors must whittle the hundreds of names we've received down to only 30. They're always difficult deliberations, but the application pool was particularly incredible this year.

As we wrote: "They work in the worlds of technology and tires, finance and forestry, retail and recovery operations. They hail from Tokyo and Toronto, London and Lima, Mexico and Manhattan. They toil in data centers and diversity, conservation and conservative politics — and generally are making the world greener and more just."

READ THE FULL STORY: The 2019 GreenBiz 30 Under 30

5. We spent International Women's Day doing what we do every day: feeling inspired by the work that women in corporate sustainability are undertaking. To celebrate, though, this year, we decided to write about those amazing women. 

From women running corporate offices to those running for office, incredible badasses around the world are leading the way to a more sustainable and just future. They're fighting for everything from greening finance to equity in tech startup acceleration to healthy materials in fashion to decarbonizing transportation.

"Whether it's the unwavering diplomacy of public-sector leaders such as Christiana Figueres or the steely resolve of executives such as Apple's Lisa Jackson, this group is especially noteworthy both because of what they already have achieved and for their ability to directly influence future innovation and progress," wrote our editorial director, Heather Clancy. 

READ THE FULL STORY: 25 badass women shaking up the corporate climate movement

6. Our food production system and climate change are inextricably linked. However, better decision-making in our land use and agricultural practices has the potential to stop climate change — and even, reverse it.

The agriculture sector represents a far outsized proportion of global emissions that contribute to climate change — between 20 and 25 percent, according to scientists. However, in order to feed the growing population nutritiously and maintain millions of livelihoods around the world, the field is a difficult one to transition to low-carbon.

However, the way that we manage agriculture and husbandry makes a massive difference in the amount of greenhouse gases both of them emit. General Mills’ Head of Sustainability of Natural and Organic Operations, Shauna Sadowski, wrote for GreenBiz on why how the future of land and livestock management is regenerative.

READ THE FULL STORY: How regenerative land and livestock management practices can sequester carbon

7. Oil companies love to talk about their transition to clean energy. BP even changed its name to "Beyond Petroleum." But how are they really doing? Our senior energy analyst Sarah Golden breaks it down with facts and numbers. 

Super majors
Oil supermajors such as Chevron and ExxonMobil are ratcheting up PR budgets to brand themselves as clean energy allies. They're talking the talk, but are they walking the walk?

As it turns out, "only 3 percent of the capital expenditures by the top five supermajors is dedicated to low-carbon technologies," GreenBiz’s senior energy analyst, Sarah Golden, wrote. 

These companies might understand the importance of energy transition to stop runaway climate change, but in the meantime, they’re cashing in on the current U.S. oil boom, with plans to increase oil production and export to foreign markets.

Golden also explained in detail what the big five are doing to transition to clean energy. 

"In some ways, the oil companies would be perfect renewable allies," she concluded. Want to know why?

READ THE FULL STORY: Tracking the relationship between the oil supermajors and climate change

8. Amazon makes it easy to start your own delivery business by providing its branded vans. Why not make it easier on the planet by electrifying them?

Amazon has set ambitious goals to minimize its carbon footprint, from investing in electric pickup truck maker to championing reusable packaging. The logistics giant could make another leap by electrifying its branded vans, which it lends to contractors to launch local delivery businesses and courier packages for Amazon customers. 

Without electrifying its delivery fleet, Amazon is missing a cost-saving opportunity, wrote GreenBiz’s transportation analyst Katie Fehrenbacher. As these last-mile delivery trips are "relatively short-range, occur over a condensed area and have somewhat routine routes," electric vans can save money by eliminating fuel costs, she analyzed. 

UPS, FedEx and DHL are already electrifying their delivery fleets, but the market is still relatively new. Could Amazon make a move and tip the scale?

READ THE FULL STORY: Amazon shipping could be a tipping point for electric fleets

9. Looking for some new listening material to learn even more about the diverse field of sustainability? We have some recommendations for you. 

You might have heard our GreenBiz original podcasts, but you might not know that we're generally major podcast aficionados — and we wanted to share the love with you. We've been creating podcast roundups for the past few years, and this year was our longest list so far. 

We couldn't choose our favorite — but maybe you can find a new one of yours. From transportation expertise to stories of resilience to sustainability comedy (yes, that's a thing), our list has something for everyone.

READ THE FULL STORY: Pod's green earth: 14 sustainability podcasts you need to know

10. WeWork’s leader of sustainability and well-being sat down with GreenBiz contributor Mia Overall to explain her role in the coworking brand, how she got there and how the company plans to take on climate change.

Lindsay Baker, WeWork's first chief sustainability officer.
Lindsay Baker, WeWork's first chief sustainability officer.
You won’t find any trace of meat at WeWork’s corporate spread. Don’t worry — carnivores are still welcome, but the coworking brand has stopped spending its budget on meat. This is only one of the ways it’s minimizing its environmental footprint, spearheaded by The We Company's new leader of sustainability and well-being, Lindsay Baker.

From building healthier office space to imagining cities of the future, she has seen the role evolve tremendously since jumping on board.

And now, the most pressing matter on her mind is climate change. 

"For us, this means tackling our own climate footprint, but also helping entrepreneurs start businesses to help tackle climate," Baker said. "We’re also disproportionately trying to have a positive impact in areas of the world that are impacted by climate change." 

READ THE FULL STORY: Meet Lindsay Baker, WeWork's first global sustainability leader