Category Archives: Risk Management

Hurricane Harvey – More exposures in the mix than just water and wind!

The full damage and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey is not yet known and will likely be felt for months to come. While the most pressing issues facing Insureds at this time are the devastating impacts of water and/or wind damage, we all learned some unfortunate lessons from Hurricane Sandy and Katrina specifically caused during storm surges and/or flooding (and after the water recedes) which lead to unexpected clean-up costs and/or pollution legal liability issues (including but not limited to):

  • Historic/Pre-Existing Contamination – Properties having historical or pre-existing contamination could be disturbed and, subsequently, carry pollutants to multiple locations resulting in the cross-contamination of various parts of the property and/or neighboring properties.
  • Landfill Containment Breaches – Heavy water infiltration can cause landslides carrying with it pollutants and/or contaminated waste water into nearby waterways or sensitive third-party receptor areas.
  • Floating Drums of Chemicals and Storage Tanks – Drums containing hazardous waste and storage tanks containing oils and other chemicals could be raised afloat and damaged during transport from their original locations, thereby distributing pollutants downstream.
  • Sewerage Authorities System Back-ups – Sewerage authorities have limited storage and processing capacity, therefore, large unanticipated volumes of water could result in the overflow and/or release of raw untreated sewage.
  • Mold Damage – Mold can grow at alarming rates given proper moisture, temperature range and food source (cellulose-based substrate) following a saturation event.

While property policies may include some pollution-related coverage, it’s imperative that insureds, if they have environmental insurance policies, place their carriers on notice, carefully follow the environmental claim reporting instructions and fully understand any “emergency response” coverage provisions and policy nuances.

It’s prudent for insureds to report their environmental claim to their carriers immediately. If cost estimates for remedial activities are available, they should be sent to the carrier for approval. When submitting proposals, request that the carrier approve the costs as “reasonable and necessary” pending a coverage determination.

 

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for the Willis Towers Watson Wire. That article can be found here.

 

35611dba53fbc67f528efedc5630ec43Anthony Wagar

Anthony is a Executive Vice President and the National Sales Leader for Willis Towers Watson’s Environmental practice based in New York. He has close to 20 years of experience from a regulatory, underwriting and brokerage perspective. He blogs on matters relating to environmental risk, exposures and insurance.

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The Mushroom Farming Industry: Transforming Environmental Risks into Positive Environmental and Economic Outcomes

By Max Laufer
September 5th, 2017

A little known fact about Pennsylvania is that it is the single largest source of edible mushrooms in the United States.1 The vast majority of mushroom production in Pennsylvania is concentrated in the 759 square mile 1 Chester County in the southeast of the state. Chester County alone has over 60 mushroom farms 2 harvesting over 400 million pounds of mushrooms per year, nearly 50% of the entire U.S. supply.3 Mushroom production is Pennsylvania’s second largest industry in its agricultural sector 3 and shows no signs of slowing down as demand for mushrooms in the U.S. continues to increase.4

Mushroom production has substantially less negative environmental impact than other agricultural industries and, as such, receives little to no criticism from the concerned public. In Chester County, PA, however, mushroom farming happens on a larger scale than anywhere else in the country and thus its aggregate negative environmental impact is greater than one might expect. Therefore, it is important to analyze the impact that exists and devise approaches toward decreasing it. This report will first look at the practice of mushroom farming and the ways it can affect the environment. Secondly, the report will propose specific solutions for mitigating the environmental impacts, while also considering the economic demands of the agricultural industry.

Mitigating Environmental Risks: At what Economic Cost?

Typical discourse about mitigating the environmental impacts of farming centers on minimizing both economic and environmental risk. Much discussion, for instance, has taken place about the imposing of certain economic sanctions on corporations that engage in practices that result in a substantial amount of carbon emissions. These discussions occur on the basis of environmentalists’ hopes for decreasing the frequency of use of said practices. Traditional discourse about the balancing of economic and environmental success, however, is not necessarily applicable to the mushroom industry. In fact, one’s environmental concerns need not be compromised in ensuring a balance of positive environmental and economic outcomes,. What is fascinating about the mushroom farming industry is that its harmful environmental impact actually holds the potential to be transformed into both positive environmental and economic outcomes.

Environmental Risks of Mushroom Farming

Environmental concerns over mushroom farming are almost entirely centered around the refining and disposing of its by-products. This potential environmental harm manifests itself in a couple of ways. The process of growing mushrooms entails the fungal bodies converting compost into nutrients. Carbon from said compost undergoes a conversion process initiated by the mushrooms into useable carbohydrates.5 Such a process results in a by-product known as “spent compost.”5 Spent compost is not intrinsically harmful to the environment (and, in fact, can be highly useful: a concept that will be expounded upon later). There are two aspects of spent compost that have the potential to affect environmental harm, each multifaceted in and of themselves. The first concern is that mushrooms are often commercially grown in recycled organic matter containing pesticides. The problem with this is not related to the pesticides themselves, per se, but rather with the methods of disposal of spent compost containing said pesticides. Or, perhaps, the fact that it is disposed of at all. When spent compost containing pesticides is disposed of instead of being reused for other purposes (a concept that will also be explained later in greater detail), it can pose a significant environmental threat. This threat primarily manifests itself in the form of runoff.5 Runoff from disposed spent mushroom compost can contaminate local water supplies and natural, water-based ecosystems.5

Aside from the issue of pesticide pollution, spent compost also potentially harbors harmful viruses and diseases. These diseases pose risks parallel to those caused by pesticides. They have the potential to contaminate water supplies and disrupt ecosystems. The risk of spent mushroom compost containing diseases can be easily decreased through a pasteurization process.6 Pasteurizing mushroom compost also maximizes its potential for reutilization,6 which one might predict would decrease the tendency of mushroom farmers to dispose of it in the first place.

The disposal of spent mushroom compost can pose numerous environmental risks. It does not, however, have to be disposed of. In fact, it can also be reused in several ways. Spent compost has water-retaining properties as well as the potential to retain nitrate levels of its water due to the presence of high amounts of carbon.5 As such, spent compost has the potential to be highly useful as an addition to soil for commercial farming. Further, there is also promising research that shows the efficacy of spent mushroom compost for increasing the quality of turfgrass. According to a study conducted by the Department of Plant Science at Penn State, spent mushroom compost “can improve the structure of clay soils, reduce surface crusting and compaction, promote drainage, increase microbial activity, and provide nutrients to turfgrasses.”7 Spent compost also has the potential to be reused for further mushroom harvesting. According to research also done at Penn State, “phosphorous availability may be a limiting factor” in terms of the reusability of supposedly spent compost.5 Their research has shown, however, that phosphorous availability can be increased in the substrate “by controlling the ionic activity of calcium and potassium.”5 Through this process, there lies a potential for spent mushroom compost to not actually be as “spent” as previously thought in regards to its ability to be reused for its original purpose.

If spent mushroom compost is not truly spent, however, then why is it so often disposed of? The answer appears to be simpler than one might assume. There is not widespread knowledge of the potential reusability of spent compost. According to the same research implicated earlier, mushroom farmers “must try to educate not only the community but also all possible users about the value of post mushroom substrate.”5 Ultimately, the problem appears not to be that the spent compost itself lacks uses, rather that its uses are not at all adequately considered. More widespread reuse of spent compost would not only be positive for the environment by reducing rates of environmentally harmful disposal, but it could also benefit the mushroom industry in a very positive way. In addition to producing and selling mushrooms, the mushroom industry now also has a farming substrate with remarkable potential for use in various industries. Ignoring the fact that reusing the spent compost would substantially mitigate the environmental risks associated with it, spent compost also poses a fascinating economic opportunity for the mushroom industry. The mushroom industry has the potential to repurpose its by-products for commercial sale while simultaneously mitigating the environmental risks associated with said by-product’s disposal. Investing in consumer education could prove to hold substantial economic benefits for the mushroom industry and environmental benefits for Chester County and other areas where the industry flourishes.

It is apparent that spent mushroom compost can be reused for a variety of purposes. Further, however, it is also important to note that disposal is not necessarily a terrible option if creating demand for spent mushroom compost fails. In order to minimize the environmental harm of the disposal process, though, two steps would have to be taken. The first and most obvious step would be to eliminate the use of growing substrate containing pesticides. Doing this would result in a rather innocuous by-product rather than one that poses risk of runoff. In fact, spent mushroom compost itself appears to pose no environmental risk if it does not contain pesticides (and if it has undergone a process about to be elaborated on). According to research at Penn State, the spent compost simply “decomposes to an unobjectionable soil.”5

The second step that would have to be taken to reduce environmental harm resulting from spent mushroom compost disposal would be to put in place a pasteurization process. This process involves heating the substrate to a temperature high enough to eliminate harmful bacteria and diseases.6 The primary reason why the pasteurization process is not widespread despite its apparent efficacy in minimizing environmental risks is, simply put, the cost associated with it.6 The process is not legally required and thus little incentive exists for commercial mushroom farmers to implement it.

Two potential solutions to this quandary exist: the first is for environmental regulatory agencies to legally require a pasteurization process. This, however, would likely have a negative economic impact. It would increase the costs associated with mushroom farming, potentially making the endeavor less profitable and/or driving up the price of mushrooms. Given that mushroom farming plays an integral role in the economy of Chester County, such policies might appear untenable to those fiscally-minded. Another solution, and one with less potential economic impact, would be establishing tax incentives for implementing a pasteurization process. Such a tax incentive would inevitably shift some amount of a tax burden onto taxpayers or on other industries to compensate, though it would have benefits that would not exist if a legal requirement for pasteurization was put into place. It would give mushroom farmers more ownership over their process, while still increasing pasteurization rates in the industry. Increasing pasteurization rates, of course, is highly important in regards to controlling the spread of disease resulting from disposal of spent compost. While it is unclear exactly what the economic impacts of the aforementioned policy recommendations would be, they are certainly steps worth taking if environmental risk is wished to be minimized. Economic risks from the aforementioned policies, however, would not have to be assumed if demand for spent compost meets the supply. This would, of course, be the optimal solution to the problem. What is clear, however, is that there are ways to mitigate environmental risk even if the demand never meets the supply. As such, the aforementioned policies are important considerations.

It is remarkable how much potential exists for the process of mushroom farming to be refined and realigned with common environmental goals while also providing new possible economic opportunities. By using organic material containing less pesticides, implementing a pasteurization process for spent compost, and encouraging more widespread reuse of spent compost, environmental risks can be nearly completely mitigated. Economic benefits may lie in the potential for repurposing spent compost for commercial sale. The primary barrier to overcome to realize this potential is the lack of industry knowledge about the reusability of spent compost. If such a barrier cannot be crossed, however, policy changes exist that hold the potential to still substantially mitigate environmental harm. Disposing of spent compost has little environmental risk if the mushroom industry operates under regulations either requiring or incentivizing pasteurization and lower pesticide use.

 

About the Author:

Max Laufer is a rising sophomore at Haverford College. Max was one of the co-founders of the Ideas for Action 14-18 program at Wharton. Max is passionate about problem solving and how young people can affect positive environmental change.

 

Bibliography:

  1. The One Tiny Region That Produces Nearly Half of U.S. Mushrooms – Modern Farmer. (2014). Modern Farmer. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://modernfarmer.com/2014/05/welcome-mushroom-country-population-nearly-half-u-s-mushrooms/
  2. Facts About Chester County | Chester County, PA – Official Website. (2017). org. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://chesco.org/892/Facts-About-Chester-County
  3. NSTATE, w. (2017). Economy of Pennsylvania including Pennsylvania Agriculture and Manufacturing from NETSTATE.COM. com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.netstate.com/economy/pa_economy.htm
  4. Mitchell, D. (2015). Mushroom demand grows across board | The Packer. Thepacker.com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/marketing-profiles/Mushroom-demand-grows-across-board-288830551.html
  5. Impact of the Mushroom Industry on the Environment (Mushrooms). (2017). Mushrooms (Penn State Extension). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://extension.psu.edu/plants/vegetable-fruit/mushrooms/mushroom-substrate/impact-of-the-mushroom-industry-on-the-environment
  6. (2017). Pasteurization of Mushroom Substrate and other Solids. Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380281604_Kurtzman.pdf
  7. Using Spent Mushroom Substrate (mushroom soil) as a Soil Amendment to Improve Turf (Center for Turfgrass Science). (2017). Center for Turfgrass Science (Penn State University). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/turf/extension/factsheets/mushroom-soil

Where Technology and Service Meet, Innovation Will Follow

By Sergio Corbo, SVP Marketing & Communications and Chief Marketing Officer, Veolia North America

Technology is not inherently innovative, but in combination with service it has the ability to generate truly innovative solutions. At Veolia, our services shape a more sustainable world. However, by combining those services with technology, our partners are able to solve their environmental challenges more swiftly and efficiently.

Consider the case of a municipal water utility. Cities, counties and municipalities across North America rely on hundreds of miles of underground pipes to deliver reliable wastewater services to their customers. Those same pipes also play a role in preventing wastewater from seeping into the environment and being released into public waterways. Advanced flow-monitoring technology can help these system operators identify when a leak is about to happen, and if it happens, where it is located. This simplifies the process of mobilizing employees, saving the city money and mitigating damage to precious natural resources.

It is this type of application, at the intersection of technology and service, that helps our organization prepare customers for the sustainability challenges of the future.

This relationship works in reverse as well: SourceOne Energy, a subsidiary of Veolia North America, offers its customers a web-based energy management system called EMsys that collects, manages and reports energy information from sub-meters, building management systems and utility invoices. By combining this data with our team of energy analysts, account managers and IT professionals — as well as our global Energy O&M and Energy Advisory Services — we can help our clients develop comprehensive programs that optimize their energy usage while accelerating cost recovery and base forecasting.

Cities and commercial customers are not the only ones that can benefit from the integration of technology and service. Our environmental specialists and field experts also use specially designed software to log and safely handle the various hazardous materials they collect from their customers. This ensures a smoother experience for our partners upon collection, and easy government reporting through our Customer Information Management Solutions secure web portal.

All of this data is great, but it’s only as good as the people using it to deploy the necessary sustainable solutions. As consumer pressures force businesses to become more socially responsible, technology that aids in more effective and cost-efficient service delivery will prove to be more of an asset than ever.

A Sustainable Development Expert’s Take on the 10th Anniversary IGEL Conference

By Noam Lior, PhD, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania

The vital urgent challenge: with projected population increase of 30%, to 9 billion within the next 33 years, exponential increase in the demand for resources, the associated large scale of projects, the proven serious impact on the environment, all development must be done sustainably to prevent major deterioration of present and future life quality or even global disaster. For the utter skeptics: at the very least, prepare for damage to the business, and stricter government regulations, monitoring, and enforcement.

Education, for business or otherwise, requires, as much as possible, definitions, methods that are quantitative/scientific, correct data, and wide acceptability, standardization and uniformity. This is especially important for the complex highly multidisciplinary field of sustainable development which is of vital importance to humanity’s survival (or at least well-being), and thus also has a meta-ethical foundation. Education in business sustainability must increasingly and more rigorously address the role of sustainability as a business paradigm, including multi-generational and international/global considerations. Business education should consider and support the evaluation and substantiation of national and international sustainable planning policies, now for example the US new administration’s directions, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It should include a description of the dangers of Greenwashing and other sustainability fraud.

Sustainable development requires a scientific approach, close and honest cooperation between all humans, across any borders they drew, vision of the future, and much respect for the environment that we so temporarily occupy.

IGEL at the COP22

By Eleanor Mitch, CEO and Founder of EM Strategy Consulting, Wharton alumna

The swift approval and ratification of the Paris Agreement[1] (104 countries of the 197, or 58%, have ratified the agreement!) was nothing short of “miraculous” in CIDCE[2] president Michel Prieur[3]’s words. Never before had an international agreement been so rapidly approved and adopted by so many nations in such a short span of time (approximately 1 year). Indeed, Prieur, one of the “fathers” of the principle of non-regression in environmental law, was instrumental in ensuring the addition of “this momentum is irreversible” in para.4 of the Marrakech Action Proclamation[4]. He has participated in the drafting of many international conventions since the 1970s and sees great hope in the rapid action even though we and future generations will still have to face the grave effects of climate change.

As part of this historic movement of awakening to the realities of the changes climate change must bring about, Wharton IGEL was represented with a presentation in absentia[5] by Eric Orts[6] on the implications for business of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, one of the key sectors that will be facing changes is the business sector. While markets have already chosen more sustainable energy sources in some areas (investments in wind and solar power, and Morocco boasts the world’s largest solar power plant, which just went live in 2016[7]), much more needs to be done, all throughout the supply chain, especially in Operations.

For the first time ever at a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC-COP), an event uniting the ITC[8], IFAD[9], WTO[10], UNCTAD[11], UNFCCC[12] and UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation[13] was held to discuss how to move forward with business and trade on the Paris Agreement. During the event, Wharton IGEL Alumni Eleanor Mitch raised the point of the role of business schools, and especially IGEL’s, in leading the way to new business opportunities and innovation in sustainability. Given that Wharton graduates and those of other business schools will become business leaders, it is important to strengthen ties with the international law-making, enforcing bodies and business schools to prepare graduates to provide services and products for the challenges the world faces: environmentally displaced persons, sea-level rising, sustainable energy and consumption among others. Innovation and creativity-driven prosperity can come hand-in-hand with sustainable development.

 

[1] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

[2] http://cidce.org/

[3] http://cidce.org/structures-institutional/

[4] http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/marrakech_nov_2016/application/pdf/marrakech_action_proclamation.pdf

[5] Eleanor Mitch, presented for Eric Orts

[6] http://cidce.org/presentations-cop-22-cop-22-presentations/

[7] http://www.greenprophet.com/2016/02/worlds-largest-solar-power-plant-goes-live-in-morocco/

[8] http://www.intracen.org/

[9] https://www.ifad.org/

[10] https://www.wto.org/

[11] http://unctad.org/en/Pages/Home.aspx

[12] unfccc.int

[13] http://unfccc.int/bodies/body/6406/php/view/reports.php#c

Following the Green Brick Road with MES and IGEL to Real-World Sustainability

By: Nathan Sell*

January to July 2014 were the quickest and perhaps busiest months of my life to date. As a Masters student in the Environmental Studies program at Penn I was finishing up my degree, joining the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) team, and job hunting. My time at IGEL was an invaluable experience in many ways. I joined in the thick of event planning just as the annual conference and a host of other events were all being planned.  This “trial by fire” had me leveraging my new knowledge as an MES student, as well as my educational background, and building a new set of communications and outreach skills.

I was in awe at the audience that IGEL has and the power that its events have to bring together leaders in sustainability and push the discussion on what companies can do for business and the environment. A lot of the skills I refined while at IGEL both caught the attention of my current employers and have served me well in my new role.

As a participant in the ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) program, I’m working with the EPA Office of Water at the headquarters in Washington, DC. As part of the Climate Change Team, I work on issues closely tied to sustainability.  Balanced between communications and research, a portion of my work is dedicated to facing EPA’s message to the public through social media and outreach. My research at the moment focuses on “Blue Carbon,” carbon sequestered within coastal marine ecosystems such as mangroves, sea grass beds, and salt marshes. Blue Carbon is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. These ecosystems are shown to store carbon up to 100X faster than terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, and store this carbon for incredibly long periods of time. They’re part of the puzzle to building climate change resilience. Seeing how policy can be leveraged for additional protection and expansion of these threatened environments, and seeing where business can build blue carbon into international carbon markets are some of the drivers that will be increasingly important in the future.  It’s an exciting intersection of science, policy and business that I’m thrilled to be working on, and an amazing way to begin putting my MES degree and IGEL experience to use.

*Nathan is the former IGEL Coordinator and currently works with the EPA Office of Water on their Water Policy Staff.  @mister_sells

Adapting to Climate Change: Environmental Liability

By: Anthony Wagar

Over the past several years, more and more companies are becoming increasingly aware of climate change issues and the necessity for sustainability/resiliency planning.  This awareness comes in many forms but primarily centers on how their business might be affected financially (through legal liability, fines/penalties, government regulations, and financial disclosure requirements) or just simply public relations surrounding responsible corporate citizenship. 

As the climate change threat becomes more real, based upon its estimated path into the future, industries are preparing for the potential impact, the importance of sustainability planning and facing that possibility that they may need to be prepared to pay a price on their carbon output.

This is not isolated to only major oil companies or large manufacturing companies who utilize vast amounts of coal to generate energy (some companies that have already taken the initiative to consider sustainability planning include firms such as Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, ConAgra Foods, Wells Fargo, DuPont, Duke Energy, Google and Delta Airlines just to name a few).

Storm Surge and/or Flooding

Adverse weather events such as flooding, storm surges, droughts and heat-wave could lead to unexpected clean-up costs and/or pollution legal liabilities issues.  A few “real life” examples illustrated below.

Historic/Pre-Existing Contamination

Properties having historical or pre-existing contamination could be disturbed and, subsequently, carry pollutants to multiple locations resulting in the cross-contamination of various parts of the property and/or neighbouring properties.

Landfills

Heavy water infiltration can cause landslides carrying with it pollutants and/or contaminated waste water into nearby waterways or sensitive third party receptor areas.

Drums and Storage Tanks

Drums containing hazardous waste and storage tanks containing oils and other chemicals could be raised afloat and damaged during transport from their original locations, thereby distributing pollutants downstream.

Sewerage Authorities

Sewerage authorities have limited storage and processing capacity, therefore, large unanticipated volumes of water could result in the overflow and/or release of raw untreated sewage.

Mold Damage

Mold can grow at alarming rates given proper moisture, temperature range and food source (cellulose based substrate) following a saturation event.

“Green” Materials

Many environmental insurers are now providing coverage which give Insured’s an option to replace property with “green” materials following damage from pollutants, hence, further reducing their “carbon footprint” and addressing sustainability issues.

Many businesses experienced these scenarios during Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in costly remediation, bodily injury/property damage and staggering legal defense costs.

Droughts and Heat-Waves

While most of these loss scenarios discussed above would be addressed under a pollution legal liability policy, there are other “non-pollution” related environmental damages that would not be covered. For example:

Loss of Operating License

A major soft drink company lost their lucrative operating license in India because of an exhaustion of water resources used as raw material.

Supply Chain Disruption

A major footwear and clothing manufacturer was disrupted because an extreme weather event negatively affected cotton growth (which as one of their primary raw materials).

From a risk-management perspective, all of these exposures affect a company’s business risk and, ultimately, how insurers may view them in terms of underwriting appetite, coverage, premium, and limit for certain classes of risk.

While public policy and government intervention can help raise the importance and address the climate change issue, it’s actual corporations that can make the most impact through their own individual greenhouse gas reduction and sustainability efforts to ensure their own business success and longevity.

Climate change will continue to be one of the top concerns facing businesses across the board. Therefore, adapting proper risk management strategies and loss control planning measures early on is key.

– See more at: http://blog.willis.com/2014/04/adapting-to-climate-change-environmental-liability/#sthash.7eCgYB7w.dpuf

Is Your Business Safe from Climate Change?

By: Anne Coglianese

Climate change poses global threats to the environment, but do you know how it will affect the quality of life where you live and work? If you own a business, do you know how climate change will affect your bottom line? A recent report called Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change to the United States helps businesses identify and prepare for the specific, local risks that climate change poses.

To the average citizen, climate change may feel abstract, and many people believe that only coastal communities will be affected. However, the Risky Business report draws attention to effects far beyond sea level rise, including mortality, storm surge, crop yields, and energy, to name just a few.  For the first time, individuals can narrow in on their region to learn which issues are most relevant in their state, discovering how closely climate change will affect all of us.

The report was released by the Risky Business Project, started in the fall of 2013 when the nongovernmental organization Next Generation paired up with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Paulson Institute to research climate change’s economic threats. The report stresses “this is not a problem for another day. The investments we make today—this week, this month, this year—will determine our economic future.”

The Risky Business Project’s website makes the group’s report highly interactive and more informative. Due to the many videos, images, and charts found on the website, visitors can easily digest information on climate change risks.  For example, the website contains a video designed to help individuals understand the progression and threat of extreme weather changes.

What makes the report truly unique is the focused analysis provided. By breaking the US into regions and states, Risky Business targets the climate concerns in specific parts of the country as well as nation-wide.  The website then allows individuals to scroll through date on their prospective locations.

The report focuses on climate risk education in order to provide businesses with the information necessary to begin taking action to sidestep catastrophe. It highlights three areas to reduce risk: business adaptation, investor adaptation, and public sector response. Throughout various sections of the report, one thing becomes clear: a shift towards sustainable business and investment needs immediate action.

Former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a co-chair of the Risk Business Project, and a key player in the development of this report, recently stated in an interview:

Damages from storms, flooding, and heat waves are already costing local economies billions of dollars—we saw that firsthand in New York City with Hurricane Sandy. With the oceans rising and the climate changing, the Risky Business report details the costs of inaction in ways that are easy to understand in dollars and cents—and impossible to ignore.

To learn more about climate change and find your business’ next move, visit the Risky Business Project website.

The Impact of Climate Change on Global Food Production

By: Anne Coglianese

Water scarcity is a growing global issue and one that is significantly exacerbated by climate change. Agricultural industries around the globe are facing drastic consequences due to limited access to freshwater. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], the change in supply will “exacerbate competition for water among agriculture, ecosystems, settlements, industry and energy production, affecting regional water, energy and food security.”

Such scarcity may seem surprising because the world holds 332.5 million cubic miles of water, a seemingly infinite supply. However, very little of this is life-sustaining freshwater. In fact only 2.5% of water on earth is fresh, and much of this tiny amount is inaccessible for human use due to storage in either glaciers or the ground. According to the US Geological Survey, water sources, such as “rivers and lakes, only constitute about… 1/150th of one percent of total water.” However, these are the very water sources upon which humans rely most heavily.

The IPCC states in its 2014 report that climate change is projected to strain freshwater resources significantly. The report also states “each degree of warming is projected to decrease renewable water resources by at least 20% for an additional 7% of the global population.”

My interest in issues surrounding climate change and water grew as I attended a semester abroad last year with the International Honors Program, studying climate issues in four countries: the US, Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia. I, along with 25 other students, looked at ways to mitigate and adapt to issues that climate change will bring to food, water, and energy. Throughout the semester, I conducted independent research on the impacts that climate change and water scarcity have and will continue to have on agriculture around the world.

I learned quickly that the two are viciously linked: food production will be drastically affected by water shortages caused by climate change, but conversely agriculture plays a huge role in creating water shortages.

Technology is making great strides to help farms conserve water resources and adapt to an increasingly arid climate. Most farmers around the world use open-air irrigation systems, such as sprinklers or channels, which lose a large quantity of water to the air as vapor, long before reaching crop roots. This means that significantly more water is being used in irrigation than is being effectively used in crop production.

Drip irrigation systems have been developed to reduce water needed for irrigation. These systems dispense water directly to the crop roots through underground hoses that slowly release water. The implementation of drip irrigation can do an incredible job of reducing the strain agriculture puts on limited water resources.

Unfortunately, the average farmer in most countries cannot easily implement this technology. Whether in the US or in countries like Morocco, farmers already face narrow profit margins and struggle to become more sustainable without the financial support and education needed to implement new technologies.

Advances in technology are going to become key in preserving agricultural sectors around the world; however, technology will not be enough to sustain farming in many regions. It will become increasingly important for farmers to begin tailoring the food they produce to match the climate.

In the last fifty years, our export-oriented world has driven farmers to seek out the most profitable crops and grow them in the highest quantity possible. For example, Morocco has high fruit exports and high imports of grains; however, the arid farms of the Atlas mountains would be better suited to growing less water-demanding crops, like grains, rather than the more water-intensive crops, like fruits. Around the world, crops produced for export often lead farmers to strain the natural capacity of the land, requiring the use of fertilizers and extensive irrigation, which threaten water supplies.

The scope of the issue of water scarcity and food production is vast and growing due to climate change. No one individual or farmer has the power to reverse this scarcity, but with needed support from governments and corporations the agricultural sector can transition to widespread sustainable food production in order to avoid looming social and economic fallouts.

3rd Plasticity Forum comes to NYC June 24th

plasticity_high_newNY small PNG

By: Nathan Sell*

The 3rd Plasticity Forum kicks off next week on June 24th in New York City.  Originally launched in Rio at the Earth Summit, and last year in Hong Kong, New York is an opportune location for Plasticity’s first US forum, given the innovative work America’s biggest city has been undertaking.  Many may wonder, what is Plasticity, and why should I care?  To begin, consider this: how long could you go without using or wearing an item made of, or containing plastic? A day? An hour? A minute?  Plastic is cheap, versatile and convenient.  Because of this we view many plastic products as “disposable,” but even if their functional life is a short, like a stir straw or a soda bottle, their actual lifetime is decades or centuries. Despite our best intentions, only 10% of the plastic we use is recycled, much is landfilled, and still a great deal ends up as pollution, often in the “great pacific garbage vortex” where ocean currents move much of our plastic waste debris.  This debris is confused for food by many marine animals from birds to fish and turtles, and wreaks havoc on delicate ecosystems.

We should remind ourselves that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource which takes a great deal of energy to extract, refine, mold, and transport.  This begs the question, why would we throw this stuff out?  When we take this into consideration it becomes clear that there’s a great opportunity in changing the way that we use and reuse plastics.  We need to take a look at plastics from their formation (cradle) to their disposal (grave).  Better design (sometimes referred to as “design for the environment”) can make plastic products more easily recycled, diverting waste where it can be used as a raw material again (cradle to cradle). Reducing the amount of plastics in products, light-weighting and biodegradability are all solutions that need to be brought to scale in the plastics industry.  Technologies exist that can turn plastics into fuel (low-sulphur diesel fuel, giving an air pollution improvement along the way), making plastic waste a desirable system input.  These technologies should be considered prime investment opportunities.

Plasticity Forum will bring together leaders in industry including Nike and Dell together with leading advocates of responsible product use/reuse such as Interface and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Altogether, the forum will be the most influential dialogue on plastic pollution, design, reuse and innovation, all of which need to scale for us to bring out the opportunities that these issues represent.  Make sure to register and be part of this important conversation.

www.plasticityforum.com

View the Plasticity Forum Trailer Here

 * Nathan Sell is a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current IGEL Coordinator.