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The Circular Economy: Redesigning our Planet’s Future

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Circular Economic Model

Think about the last item you threw away. Did you consider where that product ended up, once you threw it away?

The Earth’s growing waste problem can be traced back to a culture that treats virtually every item we buy and own as disposable. Rapid urbanisation, population growth, and industrialisation are key contributors to the burgeoning volumes of waste that humans are producing each year.

But what if there was away to get around that?

Introducing the Circular Economy

Today’s post from BlackRock highlights the key benefits of adopting a circular economy, and examines the factors that will make the biggest impact in the years to come.

Circular Economy

A Culture of Consumption

Mass production is making products cheaper, more readily available, and more readily disposable, bringing levels of material comfort unimaginable to previous generations.

Companies are making new products at a frenetic pace to keep up with global demand─consuming finite resources as if the Earth had an infinite supply.

The intense effects of this mass consumption are visible across multiple industries:

  • Construction: Construction waste alone is expected to reach 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025.
  • Fast Fashion: Roughly 87% of clothing is discarded or burned each year, costing US$100 billion.
  • Plastics: Over 95% of plastic packaging value is wasted every year, costing up to US$120 billion.

As natural resources decline and waste continues to pile up, our society is at a crossroads.

A Tale of Two Economies

Today, most of the world follows the Take-Make-Waste practices of the linear economy, with little regard for future use of these resources and products. Unfortunately, most of this ends up in landfills─by 2050, we could be producing 3.4 billion tonnes of waste each year.

The circular economy, by contrast, is focused on redesigning our systems, processes, and products to enable goods to be used longer, repurposed, or recycled more efficiently.

The circular economy is a major transformational force that will last decades…investors are increasingly considering sustainability factors when making investment decisions.

—BlackRock

Companies and governments that choose to adopt a circular economic model could end up saving €600 billion (US$663 billion) annually─and potentially add €1.8 trillion (US$2 trillion) in additional benefits to Europe’s overall economy.

Designing a Better Future

Three major factors are driving the gradual, global shift to a circular economy.

  1. Economic

    Companies will need to switch from wasteful to sustainable practices, and many are taking steps towards a better future. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was signed in 2018 by over 400 organisations to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.

  2. Regulatory

    Regulations such as bans on single-use plastics and international waste imports are growing more stringent, and some governments are also offering tax incentives for corporations that follow sustainable practices.

  3. Society

    More consumers are actively researching and questioning the impacts of the products they buy, and consumer demand is showing a preference for reusable products and practices.

While few public companies today are actively using a circular economy, several major brands are leading the way in sustainable business practices.

  • Philips: Light-as-a-service that provides access to lighting rather than ownership of lightbulbs
  • Levi Strauss: Repurposing old garments into building insulation, upholstery, and new clothing
  • Toshiba: First multi-function printer, heat-sensitive erasable toner can do up to five reprints per page
  • Renault: Revamped old vehicle drive trains, engines, and gearboxes to almost-new condition

Companies and governments in the circular economy have a structural advantage to solve some of the world’s biggest economic issues ─ giving them a strong, long-term market for goods and services, the potential to lower costs, and open profitable new business streams.

Lasting Impact on People, Planet, and Profit

In order for the circular economic model to achieve widespread adoption, both sustainable investment and partnerships across sectors are needed.

This rally for change is making an impact on financial markets─sustainable investments around the world grew from US$13.3 trillion in 2012 to US$30.7 trillion in 2018.

Healthy economies rely on a healthy environment, and building a circular economy is integral to the future health of our economy, planet, and society.

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Vegetarianism: Tapping Into the Meatless Revolution

This graphic unearths the origins of the meatless revolution, while exploring how the $1.8 trillion meat market is responding to the threat of disruption.

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Vegetarianism: Tapping into the Meatless Revolution

The way people choose and consume their food is changing, and it’s encouraging a sweeping shift from animal-based to plant-based food products.

Whether it’s from the perspective of environmental impact, cruelty to animals, or health benefits, meatless diets are quickly becoming a new normal for people around the world—but where did it all begin?

Today’s infographic unearths the origins of vegetarianism and explores how the industry erupted into a lucrative web of sub-categories that are whetting the appetite of investors the world over.

The Origins of the Meat-Free Diet

Taking a holistic view of vegetarianism, there are several different diets that people typically adhere to. A vegetarian for example, doesn’t eat meat but still consumes animal products such as dairy and eggs. On the other hand, a vegan eats a strictly plant-based diet.

With 70% of the global population now reducing their meat intake, veganism has become a lifestyle choice for many. By 2026, the global market is projected to be worth over $24 billion.

While this seems like a relatively new phenomenon, the meatless revolution has been quietly building for almost two centuries.

  • 1847: The first vegetarian society is formed in England
  • 1898: The world’s first vegetarian restaurant opens in Switzerland
  • 1944: The term “vegan” is coined
  • 1994: The first World Vegan Day is introduced
  • 2014: Influential breakout documentary Cowspiracy is released
  • 2017: 6% of the entire U.S. population claim to be vegan
  • 2018: Roughly 8% of the global population claim to eat plant-based
  • 2020: Acceptance of plant-based diets by both the medical community and general public is at an all-time high

Although vegetarian and vegan diets were once heavily stigmatized, global support is now growing.

Towards a Plant-Based Future

Today, people in dozens of countries are making big strides towards plant-based lifestyles.

China, for example, introduced guidelines to help its population of 1.3 billion people reduce their meat consumption by 50%. These ambitious goals will be driven by consumer’s growing understanding of the positive impacts of eating less meat, such as:

  • Health benefits
    According to the American Heart Association, reducing meat intake could reduce the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.
  • Environmental impact
    Animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than the world’s entire transportation systems combined, but shifting to a plant-based diet could significantly reduce this problem.
  • Animal welfare
    Roughly two thirds of the 70 billion animals farmed annually are cramped in close quarters and given heavy medication. Plant-based diets eliminate animal suffering while lowering demand for other animal food products.

In fact, if more people commit to embracing a plant-based lifestyle, it could result in up to $31 trillion—or 13% of global GDP—in savings for the economy.

Big Players Fight For a Piece of the Pie

Given the newfound consumer demand for meat alternatives, it’s no surprise that global companies are clamouring to enter the market.

Many established food companies such as Nestlé and Danone are either advancing their own formula for plant-based proteins, or acquiring companies with existing experience.

Meanwhile, fast food chain McDonald’s features vegan products as permanent staple on their menu, and report an 80% uplift in customers buying these products in certain countries.

Big Meat Shifts Gears

As new players in the space attempt to cut into the $1.8 trillion global meat market, big meat companies are responding in kind.

Tycoons such as Tyson Foods and Cargill are placing bets on plant-based startups and filling shelves with their own plant-based products.

But while plant-based products created by traditional meat companies may appeal to less rigid flexitarians, vegans and vegetarians may not accept them so readily due to their strong ethics.

Food For Thought

Along with the uncertainty of how these products will be received, there are other challenges that the market must overcome in order to be considered truly accessible. For instance, plant-based alternatives boast higher price points than their predecessor’s products, which may deter consumers from entering en masse.

Regardless, it is clear that the shift to plant-based diets is a disruptive force that could change the food industry over the long term. Early movers are dangling a golden carrot in front of investors—but will they take a bite?

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Visualizing the Human Impact on the Ocean Economy

The ocean economy is under threat. How are human activities impacting the sustainable use of our ocean assets, valued at over $24 trillion?

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Visualizing the Human Impact on our Ocean Economy

When you think of economic output, it’s likely the ocean isn’t the first entity that comes to mind. But from facilitating international trade to regulating the climate, the “blue economy” contributes significant value in both tangible and intangible ways.

The sustainable use of the ocean and its resources for economic development and livelihoods have such far-reaching effects, that its protection is a significant goal of the United Nations, as well as for many other countries and organizations throughout the world.

However, these vital ocean assets are in danger of sinking quickly. Ahead of World Oceans Day on June 8, 2020, we look at the total value of assets that come from our ocean, and how various human activities are affecting these resources.

Global Ocean Asset Value

Economic value from all the oceans is measured both by their direct output, as well as any indirect impacts they produce.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, these combined assets are valued at over $24 trillion. Here’s how they break down:

  • Direct Output: Marine fisheries, coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves
    Total value: $6.9T
    Examples of direct output: Fishing, agriculture
  • Trade and Transport: Shipping lanes
    Total value: $5.2T
  • Adjacent Assets: Productive coastline, carbon absorption
    Total value: $7.8T, and $4.3T respectively
    Examples of services enabled: Tourism, education/conservation (such as jobs created)

In fact, the annual gross marine product of the oceans is comparable to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries, coming in at $2.5 trillion per year—making it the world’s eighth largest economy in country terms.

Unfortunately, experts warn that various human activities are endangering these ocean assets and their reliant ecosystems.

The Cumulative Human Impact on Oceans

An 11-year long scientific study tracked the global effect of multiple human activities across diverse marine environments. The researchers identified four main categories of stressors between 2003-2013.

  1. Climate change: Sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, and sea level rise
  2. Ocean: Shipping
  3. Land-based: Nutrient pollution, organic chemical pollution, direct human pollution, light pollution
  4. Fishing: Commercial and artisanal fishing, including trawling methods

Across the board, climate stressors were the most dominant drivers of change in a majority of marine environments. Similarly, pollution levels have also increased for many ecosystems.

Plastic pollution is especially damaging, as it continues to grow at unprecedented rates, with a significant amount ending up in the oceans. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.

Among the various marine environments, coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves proved to be most at-risk, experiencing the fastest increase in cumulative human impact. However, these are also the same ecosystems that we rely on for their direct economic output.

Overall, climate-induced declines in ocean health could cost the global economy $428 billion annually by 2050.

The Ocean Economy is in Hot Water

It can be difficult to truly understand the scale at which we rely on the ocean for climate regulation. The ocean is a major “carbon sink”, absorbing nearly 30% of the carbon emitted by human activity. But acidity levels and rising sea surface temperatures are changing its chemistry, and reducing its ability to dissolve CO₂.

According to the UN, ocean acidification has grown by 26% since pre-industrial times. At our current rates, it could rise to 100-150% by the end of the century. Overfishing is another urgent threat that shows no signs of slowing down, with sustainable fish stocks declining from 90% to 66.9% in just over 40 years.

To try and counteract these issues, this year’s virtual World Oceans Day is focused on “Innovation for a Sustainable Oceans” to discuss various solutions, including how the private sector can work with communities to maintain the blue economy. In addition, there’s a petition in place to urge world leaders to help protect 30% of the natural world by 2030.

Will our human activities continue to stress the ocean economy, or will we be able to positively reverse these trends in the years to come?

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