Managing editor

Curing the plastic pollution pandemic

By Adria Vasil
While COVID has disrupted the movement away from single-use plastic, it could be helpful in the long run

On a sweaty Sunday in August at Toronto’s Woodbine Beach, swarms of people flock to the lake’s edge trying to escape the world’s woes, at least for an afternoon. But scan the (mostly) socially distant gaps between the beach towels and lawn chairs and you’ll find telltale signs of the summer of COVID. Record levels of dumped takeout cups, forks, straws and pale-blue disposable surgical masks dot the sand just inches from the waterline. 

Just when the movement against single-use plastic was picking up steam, COVID-19 scared us into consuming 250 to 300% more single-use plastic than we used pre-pandemic, according to estimates from the International Solid Waste Association. A good chunk of that has been tough to avoid: particularly the 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves now used globally every month. Of course, we’re also valiantly fulfilling our civic duty to stay home and binge-watch Netflix while ordering record levels of plastic-wrapped deliveries – which explains how Uber Eats revenue grew by 103% in the second quarter of this year and Amazon earnings surged by 40%. Not surprisingly, Ontario reported that residential waste was up the equivalent of more than 600 full garbage trucksfor the period of March 9 to April 13 alone.

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Bank report card: Three of Big Five banks fail to deliver ethical investment options

We visited branches of the top banks to find out whether they offer funds that help Canadians invest with their values

Once relegated to the fringes of crunchy granola credit unions, ethical investing is now stepping into its power. From millennials wanting to purchase with purpose all the way up the corporate ladder to the world’s largest investment houses vowing to put climate action at the heart of investment decisions, responsible investing is quickly rising to become the defining investment issue of the new decade.*

Of course, that was before the coronavirus began pummelling the economy. COVID-19 is only deepening our desire to support companies that behave nobly and put people and planet ahead of profits.

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The EV revolution will take batteries, but are they ethical?

How automakers can clean up the dirty minerals that power them in the global race to electrify cars

Two thousand nineteen may go down as the year the auto industry started putting some muscle into electric vehicle sales. Amidst a steady stream of pledges to deliver more EVs than ever over the next five years, Ford filmed an electric prototype of its F-150 pickup truck (a favourite gas guzzler among Canadians) towing an entire freight train in a CN railyard in Montreal. Not to be outdone, the forthcoming Tesla Cybertruck then hauled the F-150 uphill in a tongue-in-cheek tug-of-war.

The brawny marketing stunts carried a simple message: electric cars aren’t just for tree-hugging Leaf, Prius and Bolt lovers anymore. The message is timely, with global leaders (including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) committing to carbon pollution targets of “net zero” by 2050, tough new emissions standards coming out of Europe, and a smattering of governments following Norway’s early lead on banning gas-powered-car sales as soon as 2025. For the vast majority of automakers that have cautiously dipped their toes in the EV market, the race to net zero is officially on. But environmental and human rights advocates, along with international heavyweights at the World Bank and World Economic Forum, say there’s an elephant in the showroom. The EV revolution has been racking up a whole supply chain of trouble around the globe (including a recent lawsuit) related to an onslaught of often-contentious new mines opening to meet surging battery-metal demand, not to mention the coming tide of e-waste from old batteries.

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Planting billions of trees could be natural climate solution

Our Knight Bites illustrator sketches out how tree power can help solve the climate crisis

The latest reports on the state of the world’s trees will knock the wind out of your lungs. The planet is losing an area the size of the United Kingdom in forests every year. And tropical deforestation is showing no signs of slowing, despite corporate and government pledges to the contrary.

But since images of wildfires ravaging the Amazon rainforest captured global hearts and minds, efforts to reforest the planet have taken centre stage. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg began urging political leaders in Canada and around the globe to look to tree planting as part of a Natural Climate Solutions campaign to tackle global heating. Adding fuel to the tree-planting fire, a Swiss study published in the journal Science made waves when it concluded that planting 1.2 trillion trees worldwide could absorb and store an astonishing 205 gigatonnes – effectively removing two-thirds of all human-made carbon from the atmosphere, once those trees fully mature.

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If cattle are the new coal, are Canadian peas the new solar?

While report says most meat companies are failing to prepare for climate risks, Canada's yellow peas are part of plant boom

When McDonald’s announced it was tweaking its beef burgers in early August to make them “hotter, juicier and tastier,” the media proclaimed that the fast food giant was “doubling down on beef” and snubbing the “vegan craze” altogether. Six weeks later, word emerged that McDonald’s Canada would embrace the plant protein trend after all. It’s launching a global pilot for Beyond Meat burgers in select Ontario stores – and at 50 cents less than its rival A&W sells the famed vegan patty.

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Powerhouse building produces more energy than it needs

Norway's Powerhouse Brattørkaia isn’t merely a net zero office building – solar and deep-water energy make it energy positive

Last year, the City of Vancouver updated its green buildings regulations to require that all re-zoning applications meet either net zero or low-emissions standards, considered among the most stringent in Canada. The move, combined with incentives, has helped trigger a boom in the development of so-called “passive house” projects that use extremely low quantities of energy for heating and cooling.

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Can plant-based plastics dig us out of waste crisis?

Why compostable plastics are condemned to landfill and what can be done to solve the packaging conundrum

How do you fix a consumer economy that’s waist-deep in disposable plastics? With cargo boatloads of our plastic trash getting turned back from Asia, only 9% of plastics being recycled and single-use plastic bans now in 60 countries and counting, businesses big and small are scrambling for alternatives that don’t leave their customers saddled with guilt.

One option under the microscope: plastics that come from the earth and – the hope is – return to the earth. Seafood shells, sawdust, cornstarch, algae, tree bark, chicken feathers – pretty much any natural substance you can think of is being converted to plastic. Compostable plant-based plastics in particular have been officially pinned to the vision board of a new circular economy. In August, Molson Coors became the latest of 125 corporations (including L’Oréal, Mars, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever) to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation pledge to phase out unnecessary plastic packaging and work toward “100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025.”

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Corporate Knights joins global campaign, Covering Climate Now

Why we're joining 250 newsrooms in 32 countries to ramp up coverage of the climate crisis – and its solutions

Today, over 250 news outlets from around the planet, with a combined reach of over 1 billion people, are banding together to ramp up media coverage of the climate crisis.

The Covering Climate Now campaign, launching September 16, was co-founded by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation with the aim of strengthening the media’s focus on the climate emergency facing us all. Corporate Knights is one of several Canadian media outlets to join the campaign. That means we’ve committed to running a week’s worth of climate coverage in the lead-up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23. It’s one of a number of editorial commitments Corporate Knights has made to bring the climate crisis to the fore.

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Is Volkswagen’s stock charging up or still sputtering toxic fumes?

Our Sustainable Stock Showdown pits hybrid giant Toyota against recovering Dieselgate carmaker as it doubles down on electric

It’s been ten years since Volkswagen won the won Green Car of the Year award at the LA Auto Show. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI and the Audi A3 TDI won because of their innovative clean diesel engines. Then a massive scandal revealed that the clean diesel engines weren’t actually that clean: Volkswagen had been cheating on emissions tests. VW was stripped of its awards. Consumers and investors were furious, and the stock plummeted by more than 40%. Now four years later, Volkswagen has just released a mass-market electric car that’s much cheaper than a Tesla Model 3. But does Volkswagen’s stock have any gas left in the tank?

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Dear Business Roundtable CEOs: Some tips on avoiding purpose-washing

A roundup of helpful advice for the 200 CEOs that recently swore off their shareholder-first mantra

A lot has been written about how nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Ford, Walmart and Pepsi, issued an eyebrow-raising statement on the purpose of corporations recently.  In a move that’s been both widely hailed and derided, the Business Roundtable, America’s most influential lobby group of corporate leaders, denounced its longstanding position that corporations exist principally to serve their shareholders.

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