Eileen Chen is a 2018-19 MBA student at Oxford’s Saïd Business School and a Canadian marketer with four years of experience in the consumer packaged goods industry. Her marketing experience included managing an e-commerce website and developing data-driven recommendations through consumer insights for Keurig Canada. Her current career aspirations are to use marketing’s power to inspire behaviour change in sustainable consumption. Eileen recently attended a talk led by Dr Jake Backus, here she explains her thoughts on the timely but trending topic of plastic.
Did you know that “single-use” was 2018’s word of the year? (Source)
Dr Jake Backus, founder of Empathy Sustainability, Common Ground (sustainable co-working space in Oxford), and previous Sustainability Director at Coca-Cola Europe, delivered a speech to Oxford students on “Plastics & Ocean Plastics – what’s the problem and what’s the solution? Emotion has galvanised action, but is it the right action?”.
Only 14% of materials are collected for
recycling, which means we are losing $80-$120 billion in value – recycling is
not only a sustainable solution, but one which can financially make sense. We
learned about the nuances of material recovery, and how counterintuitively, plastic
is not entirely bad. For instance, 60% of the energy used to create plastic can
be recovered in recycling it.
Another myth Dr Backus debunked was that,
although bioplastic and compostable solutions sound better, most can only
biodegrade in industrial composting facilities which are few and far between.
The main solutions offered were to encourage reuse and recycling, as much of the energy used to manufacture virgin plastic can be recovered in the recycling process and because they utilize existing waste management systems. There is much opportunity for nudging behaviour change in compelling ways, in order to incentivize consumers and businesses to act. For example, one of the issues is that recovering plastic has low value – what if we governments assigned artificial values to plastic? Beijing, and a few other cities, started accepting plastic bottles as train fare; can this model be scaled further?
To summarize, his top 5 priorities (in order) are:
Avoid – if you don’t need it,
Reuse and refill
Create energy from waste
Avoid landfills and oceans
Thank you Dr Jake Backus for the educational and engaging talk!
In celebration of the start of the Saïd Business School’s Circular Economy module this Trinity semester, students involved in the programme have interviewed key practitioners in the rapidly emerging field. This blog series aims to document key practitioner’s stories; perspectives on what skills are relevant to a successful career and what they see the future holds for the circular economy and its many players.
On a recent trip to Brussels, Frances Christodoulou (MSc Environmental Change & Management, School of Geography & the Environment) caught up with Karolina Kalinowska, a policy officer with the European Commission who has spent a year working on the European Union’s Circular Economy Strategy.
Karolina is keen to tackle society’s big challenges through international policy. With an academic background in human and environmental sciences, Karolina applied to the EU Commission’s blue book traineeship. Accepted into the Directorate-General for the Environment, she was assigned to the Circular Economy unit. This unit was tasked to implement the EU’s flagship Circular Economy Package, a scheme adopted in 2015 to enable Europe’s transition to a more circular, sustainable economy.
In collaboration with colleagues from the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, Karolina was involved in high-level stakeholder meetings and workshops. Meeting with industry to discuss their needs and how the EU viewed the circular economy transition was central to her role.
“When you deal with any sort of transition it’s not easy, although it was surprising how much the industry was actually wanting to have this transition enabled,” Karolina explains. “Environmental protection is more and more on people’s minds. People recognise that business is a big part of environmental degradation, but also a means for safeguarding the environment. And industry themselves realise that resources are finite.”
By harnessing these ideas, the EU Commission aims to facilitate the transition to a circular economy. Building on concepts of eco-design and efficiency, the idea is to create an environment in which businesses and entrepreneurs are empowered to develop circular business models. “Closing the loop” helps businesses maximise the value of resources and wastes, while creating benefits for both the environment and economy as a whole.
As a policy officer with DG Environment, Karolina found her analytical and technical background very useful. However, her abilities to negotiate and apply “holistic thinking” were vital when it came to interacting with stakeholders and developing policies.
“For example the development of the Plastic Strategy involved months and months and months of public consultation, stakeholder meetings and really working with the sectors that would be affected,” says Karolina. “You need a balance of interests to push something through”. Having the skills to negotiate with different actors, while thinking holistically about the issues, are central to successful policy implementation.
On the job, Karolina developed the communication skills needed to deal with stakeholders pursuing different roles, purposes and ambitions. She learnt how to write “very concise briefings” to convey EU policy and key arguments, quickly and succinctly to varied audiences. She also developed stakeholder awareness, always “thinking from what angle should we approach these people; what are their interests?” Dealing with both NGOs and for-profit industry the “need to meet conflicting interests” was at the forefront of her work, making communication key.
There are still many barriers to realising the transition to a thriving, circular economy. For businesses, Karolina identifies the challenges as “largely technical”. Many companies have limited technical expertise to implement sustainable practices, and often “circular” solutions are not yet fully developed. Capital costs can also be a barrier, since often new technologies are “more expensive at the beginning, as…with technological transitions in general”. This is where the EU plans to act as facilitator and enabler by providing funds and financial support for research and innovation.
What are the challenges Karolina sees for policy makers pushing a circular economy agenda? At the fore is the need to manage conflicting interests and negotiate trade-offs in a political environment. In the EU, the need for 28 member states to cooperate and agree for policy to be implemented is a major challenge. The Council (comprised of the heads of member states) “aren’t willing and can be even less ambitious than…the private sector” when it comes to environmental policies, posing a massive challenge to progressing the circular economy agenda.
With enthusiasm for the circular economy growing and more business eager to get involved, Karolina worries about the possibility of “greenwashing”. Circular economy is a powerful concept with the ability to drive much needed change. However, “it can often be misunderstood; [used as] a catch-all phrase”, says Karolina, and as a concept has the potential to be hijacked by companies who wish to project a “green” image, while doing very little for the environment. But this doesn’t mean we should shy away from encouraging businesses to adopt “circular” practices.
And with all this talk of international policy and the European economy, has Karolina’s relationship with waste at a personal level been affected at all?
“Hugely,…inevitably you learn so much”, says Karolina. “And also when you realise that in Brussels the waste management is absolutely rubbish [*Ahem*], you start thinking about your own personal choices”. Not being able to recycle most plastics, Karolina now tries to avoid single-use plastic, shops at the local, package free market and seeks out Eco-label products.
Small steps, to be sure. But even these small lifestyle choices show the potential and desire to implement a more circular economy. There is massive scope for creativity and innovation within this space and policy-makers and business alike are at the forefront of driving this change.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and interlocutor and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the European Commission.
Closing the Gap – a series of Oxford University postgraduate student insights to the Skoll World Forum 2018
Gladys Ngetich, Rhodes Scholar and DPhil in Engineering Science at the Department of Engineering Science, reports on the Skoll World Forum session ‘Women and Girls: Catalysing Change in the Climate Crisis’.
The panel – Women and Girls: Catalysing change in the climate crisis
Climate change is without a doubt one of this 21st century’s leading global challenges. Climate change-related disasters like serious floods, mudslides, droughts and severe heat waves continue to ripple across the world causing a staggering number of deaths and losses due to infrastructure damages. Organisations, governments and individuals have realised that there is an inevitable need to address climate change. Thus, they are working around the clock to mitigate climate change-related disasters.
Even as world leaders deliberate on how to counter climate change, it is essential for such discussions to recognise the strong link between gender equality and climate change. In fact, the recent UN Paris Agreement (1/CP.21) acknowledges the necessity for equal representation of both men and women in order to make further progress in the ongoing fight against the negative effects of climate change. Despite the clear link between gender equality and climate change, women in most parts of the world have been barely involved in addressing this grave issue.
The panel – Women and Girls: Catalysing change in the climate crisis
Why is women’s involvement essential in climate change deliberations?
There are obvious gendered impacts of climate change-related disasters, particularly where women, owing to their role as primary carers, are in charge of food, water and cooking fuel. This role and the disproportionately low socioeconomic power of women as compared to men globally, make women more vulnerable when disasters like floods, hurricanes and droughts strike. Indeed, it has been reported that women are more vulnerable than men in cases of climate change-related catastrophes.
Effects of disasters like droughts on women
Droughts affect women in many ways. Water scarcity forces women, especially those in rural areas, to walk long distances in search of water. The scarcity of vegetation and trees as a result of a drought causes women, most especially in developing countries, to spend a lot of time searching for firewood which is the primary source of cooking fuel. This particularly applies to rural women in most low-income countries. All these eat into the time women could be spending for education or starting and running a business. In addition, decreased crop production adversely affects women in rural areas who are largely depended upon for food production. According to recent statistics, women produce 60-80% of the food in most developing countries. Also, in pastoralist communities in Kenya, droughts have been reported as causing an increase in cases of early child marriages.
Women make up approximately half of the world’s population
According to research done by the Brookings Institution, women’s representation in climate change only amounts to ‘24 percent of the 173 focal points to the U.N. Forum on Forests; 12 percent of the heads of 881 national environmental sector ministries; and 4 percent of 92 national member committee chairs to the World Energy Council’. Yet, as highlighted above, women are disproportionately affected by climate change-disasters. Moreover, women constitute over 50% of the world’s population. So far, there has been good progress in terms of efforts to tackle climate change. However, this progress cannot be truly effective and cover all blind spots in addressing climate change, if women are only minimally involved in such deliberations. Efforts to address climate change will only double if women from different backgrounds are brought on board. This will largely be as a result of the value of including their lived experience and the diversity of thought they bring to the table.
Women can take control of family planning—a population-based climate change mitigation strategy
The world’s population continues to soar. The United Nation predicts that the current world’s population of 7.6 billion will shoot to 9.8 by the year 2050 with the largest growth coming from developing countries. Investing in women and girls’ empowerment and quality education will enable them to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. Consequently, this will reduce the unsustainable population growth which accelerates climate change and its effects.
Importance of women’s participation in climate change deliberations
Owing to women’s unique lived experiences and the fact that they are disproportionately affected by climate change-related disasters, they have rich and diverse ground-based experiences, perspectives and knowledge that are essential for identifying and implementing potential sustainable solutions to address climate change. In addition, studies have shown that women play a crucial role in environmental conservation efforts.
In conclusion, climate change is no doubt the world’s greatest challenge which calls for an urgent and sustainable solution. There is a clear gender imbalance where women and girls are barely involved in efforts to address climate change. Going forward there is a dire need to bring them on board as they can be the much-needed agents who can contribute to sustainable climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.
Prof. Wangari Maathai – 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Founder of the Green Belt Movement that has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya.
Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.
Kaleem Hawa, DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session “Rights and Resources: Indigenous Communities and Environmental Conservation”.
The session began innocuously enough: a cold, hard April morning in Oxford; the delegates filtering in quietly; an introduction and then a prayer, delivered by Mandy Gull, Deputy Chief of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi.
The intention of the panel was to discuss environmental conservation and the preservation of biodiversity in the context of Indigenous lands, communities, and ways of life. The talk would quickly blossom though, into a more fulsome articulation of what Indigeneity looks like in the wake of modern industrialisation and the challenges posed by corporations and governments on its actualisation.
Most noticeable at the outset was the optimism – an excitement that time and space had been dedicated on the agenda to talk about Indigenous rights and conservation, that this would elevate the kinds of voices that tended to go underrepresented in international fora. The panelists did not dwell on this type of laudatory self-congratulation for long though; they were incisive, critical, and energised.
For instance, we heard from Flaviano Bianchini, the Founder and Director of Source International, about mining conglomerates in the Peruvian Andes, whose systematised border readjustments forced Indigenous communities onto less fertile lands and whose waste water pollution poisoned rivers and the people who relied on them. We heard from Mandy about the Québec logging companies, whose concerted deforestation threatened essential traplines and strategically deconstructed Indigenous self-autonomy to favour economic ends. Nicole Rycroft, the panel’s lively and eloquent moderator spoke of an unsparing system that – left unchecked – would lead inexorably towards “a simplification or even eradication of the natural biodiversity of that ecosystem and, with that, a degradation of Indigenous cultures that are so inextricably linked to that land.”
This was a panel that displayed in stark relief how Indigenous communities co-exist with the land. If the relationship between man and land in Western culture is largely predicated on a dominion narrative, Indigenous peoples see their traditional territories as sources of strength and life, and their communities come to occupy a role that is simultaneously that of steward and dependent.
As one would expect, this normative difference manifests itself in vastly divergent approaches to conservation and biodiversity. Victor López Illescas, the Executive Director of Ut’z Che’, the Guatemalan Community Forestry Association, works with more than 50 communities across Central and Latin America. He spoke of the essential work being done by Indigenous peoples in the region; according to the statistics, they inhabit more than 95% of all key ecosystems for biodiversity in Central America and are actively engaged in protecting these essential lands and estuaries. He goes on, “from Mexico to Panama, Indigenous peoples and local communities hold legally recognized rights on 65% of the forests remaining in the region, more than any other part of the world” – something that informs why rates of resource exploitation are so much lower in these spots than in others.
This optimism is tempered by the realities of implementation; these protections provide little solace, according to Flaviano. “There is a double standard. On one side, natural protected areas are imposed by governments as a barrier on aggressive expansion by industrial urban-led development models. But these natural protected areas are being decided without consultation with Indigenous peoples, overriding their local governance systems, local knowledge, and demonstrated tradition of protecting those areas.”
This is why groups like Source try to play translator roles. Their hope is to rigorously identify and corroborate abuses and use them as the basis for legal challenges to exploitative business practices. This type of evidence-based approach must, it is emphasised, be done in concert with – not in the place of – the existing advocacy being done by Indigenous communities.
As a Canadian, the most resonant part of the event was the discussion of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation and their efforts to protect the Broadback Valley – a dense old-growth forest home to incredible biodiversity and history. It was fascinating to learn from Mandy about the emphasis on hunting, fishing, and trapping on the land; individuals inherit a family trapline, and become stewards of that land, monitoring the resources and hunting sustainably. Their livelihoods are cyclical: in the spring they go to the bush camps to goose hunt, in the summer they fish and pick berries, in the fall they hunt moose. In a world in which one “cannot be Cree without Eeyou Istchee [The People’s Land],” the push to force communities to stratify traplines for logging leaves indelible effects on lives and cultures.
“I feel like I live on a faultline,” Mandy says in a stinging reference to this year’s Skoll World Forum theme. She continues, “When I flew over the Broadback and saw those clear-cut areas, in that moment I really mourned for what I knew my family had lost. Some of the paths in the Broadback have been here for a thousand years. My father asked me to protect our trapline, my father told me to make sure the trees were never cut. So yes, you can cut down a tree. And yes, then you can plant a new tree. But you have not recreated the forest. There is no way for man to recreate what nature has achieved.”
This poignant portrayal of loss defies easy categorisation. A host of structural challenges are working against these communities: exploitative industry abetted by apathetic or complicit governments, a quickly degrading international commons, and a lack of public attention or momentum.
This panel and others like it should serve as a rousing call to action. So much more needs to be done.
Kaleem Hawa is a PhD candidate in health policy at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, studying on a Rhodes Scholarship. Follow Kaleem on Twitter @kaleemhawa
Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.
Seth Collins, Oxford MBA Candidate 2016-17 at the Saïd Business School gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session “Carbon Imperialism or Energy Leapfrogging”.
How to balance the ethics and the economics of energy development?
The opportunity is clear for developing countries to forge their own energy infrastructure path, and the question, then, is whether or not they will be empowered to do so with the support of international capital markets.
You see, the banks were not at COP21. In the plenary, we spoke of capitalism’s amorality, and the need to build the playing field to guide the system; currently, argued the panelists “imperialism” hides behind the notion of risk. The risk of funding a energy infrastructure project in a developing country—something everyone agreed was an easy cash flow win if done right—is the risk of a pension fund trusting an institution in a developing country. The fear is that the opportunity is not being realised from the perception, but not the existence, of risk, leading to the paralysis of passive money instead of productive capital.
Of the $300 billion spent last year on clean technology infrastructure, only $22 billion went to developing countries. If we really want to meet the energy needs of developing countries and mitigate climate change with an aim to stay below 2 degrees, that $22 billion need to ratchet up to $500 billion, a multiple of 25x.
This requires transformational solutions. At Skoll, we heard World Bank President Jim Kim refer to the Development Finance Institution industry as a “cottage industry” as he explained how the Bank is working to change its internal incentive structure. He spoke of how to leverage money through the Bank at a 5x rate. While a useful vehicle to enable progress, that 5x multiple comes with the bureaucracy that prevents Kim, a trained doctor, from talking about coal, even though overwhelming evidence now shows that coal should not have a future in the 21st century—in climate, we have already built enough coal power plants that, if they run for their lifetime, will alone put us beyond the ambition of 1.5 degrees; in health, we know that the local costs to health alone from the pollution of a coal power plant are triple its economic benefits over 10 years; economically, renewables are now cost competitive in technology-agnostic auctions across the world and will continue to push coal into the uneconomic realms of generation merit order; and, as we see increased variability in heat waves and droughts, coal power plants will shut down under heat duress and compete with local communities for water access. 5x with bureaucracy is not the 25x we need.
We heard Citi’s Global Head of Environmental Finance and Sustainability outline how the underlying purpose of the two dominant incentives for clean energy infrastructure developed in the US (PURPA) and Germany (FiTs) was to provide a proxy long-term off-taker guarantee, and that to see the take off of energy infrastructure supported by capital markets will require a similar mechanism moving forward. This is the inspired market thinking we need to compliment the socio-political pressure promoting 21st century energy infrastructure jobs.
While calling the banks a cadre of imperialists uninspired to invest in productive change may ring normatively true, it is up to leaders to build the rules, frameworks, and enabling environments through which to pull the uninspired from the passive cubicles of the Street or the City to build the inspiration of billions to have the capabilities to build lives powered by cheap, distributed, and clean electricity.
Neil Yeoh completed his Oxford MBA in 2016 and now works at Echoing Green as a Portfolio Manager to their Climate Change Fellows. He is an advocate for climate change and was recently awarded the title of World Economic Forum Global Shaper at the NYC Hub.
‘There is the natural tendency that all of us are vulnerable to, to deny unpleasant realities and to look for any excuse to push them away and resolve to think about them another day long in the future’ – Al Gore on climate change.
This statement is true in my life. At the age of 16 as an Australian-born Asian I travelled to Xi’an China in search of my ethnic and cultural identity. Instead I found the thick dark smog that covers and chokes a lot of east China today. At the time I selfishly assured myself that Australia far away from air pollution was home, but in time realised that the world air pollution impacts our shared home. I denied the problem for many years but eventually acted knowing the type of ancestor I wanted to be – one who fought the good fight in tackling air pollution and, more prominently, climate change for our future generations.
So when I got the opportunity to attend the UN General Assembly’s action event on climate change and the Sustainable Development agenda on Thursday, 23r March 2017, I was eager to hear about the progress towards realising the 2016 UNFCCC Paris Climate Treaty, and how I could play a better part. Overall progress has been made, but not enough to ensure a less than 2oC rise in average global temperature to avoid the most serious impacts of global warming – where island nations are submerged, extreme weather becomes more frequent, and plants and animals risk extinction.
Here are three takeaways from the event we need to save our world from climate change:
Neil Yeoh attended the UN General Assembly Climate Change event on 23rd March 2017.
More money and smart investments
Solutions exist – but we need more money to invest into renewables. It’s no secret that renewable energies like solar and wind are now cost-competitive with conventional energy production, reaching prices as low as 3 cents per kWh in some markets. Global renewable investments grew almost 700 percent from 2004 to 2015 reaching a record USD 348 billion. It’s a start, but this is still less than half of the funds required to double the share of renewable energy (currently only ~18%) in total global energy consumption by 2030.
To get on track with the money we have, it’s critical that we make smart investments. The UNFCCC, which has USD 10 billion is working to structure current and future deals to scale the impact of renewables. According to Ambassador Howard Bamsey, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund and custodian of the UNFCCC funds, mixing debt and equity helps to achieve healthy leverage rates, stretching existing money while also funding solutions that can scale impact beyond the money available.
More adaptation and localised solutions
We need adaptation solutions as much as mitigation solutions to climate change. Many scalable solutions are focused on restraining the production of greenhouse gases, but it’s important to also support solutions that help people and environments adapt to an imminent future where the damage is already done. Start-up Coral Vita embraces this approach, aiming to grow climate-resilient coral to sustain ocean ecosystems with rising temperatures and water acidification.
The most effective solutions will be designed to meet local country needs. When I spent time in rural Kenya with M-KOPA Solar, off-grid solar devices were combined with innovative financing to bypass the lack of infrastructure to achieve local electrification. In Finland, the Bank of Aland is issuing a green credit card to tackle climate change in the Baltic Sea, where customers opt in to measuring and offsetting carbon emissions from their financial transactions.
Helping yourself whilst helping others
Countries must abandon isolated mindsets when it comes to battling climate change. Mr Xie Ji, Director General of NDRC’s Department of Climate Change took off his “climate negotiator hat” and reasoned that China needs to look outwards to provide capacity and technical support to neighbouring countries to help them build renewable capacity.
I agree with this philosophy as we cannot expect to reach climate targets at the rate we need without supporting one another through collaboration and shared technologies. To picture this – it’s like the oxygen masks on aircraft safety videos. The instruction to install your mask and masks of your children is applicable in addressing climate change since we are all effectively travelling on the same plane, or in our case, world. We’re all in it together, so if it begins to nosedive we might as have helped each other out in case we make it out alive!
So what can we do?
As custodians of the world today we need to lead by example with our wallets (buying into renewables and green solutions); our minds (enterprising new and scaling existing solutions); and our hearts (working on efforts as a community). Maybe then we’ll have a world our future generations can enjoy, as much as we do today.