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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MegaMilk: Charting Consolidation in the U.S. Dairy Industry
This graphic charts the American dairy industry’s shift in milk production from small commercial farms to fewer, larger farms.
MegaMilk: Charting the Consolidation of the Dairy Industry
Today’s dairy industry looks very different to how it did just 30 years ago.
Milk production in the U.S. has increased by a whopping 50% over that time frame—yet, the total number of dairy farms has dropped by three-quarters.
Fewer and larger farms now have the lion’s share of all U.S milk cow inventory. While they have the ability to produce more competitively priced dairy products and provide more value to consumers, it is causing financial devastation for small farmers.
The graphic above uses data from the USDA to chart the rapid consolidation of the American dairy industry between 1992 and 2017.
The End of the Small Dairy Farmer?
In the U.S., the dairy industry is one of the fastest consolidating industries in comparison to almost all other agricultural sectors.
Between 1992 and 2017, small commercial farms with 10-99 cows saw an average decline of 70%. These farms accounted for 48.5% share of all U.S. milk cows in 1992. In 2017, that number stood at just 12.2%.
Over time, small farm production has been replaced by that of bigger and more consolidated “megafarms”—a move that can be attributed to the many benefits that scale brings, such as lower costs of production and the potential to compete in the international market.
|Share of U.S. milk cow inventory (by year)|
|1-9 milk cows||0.9%||0.7%||0.6%||0.4%||0.4%||0.4%|
|10-49 milk cows||19.5%||13.8%||9.2%||6.8%||5.9%||3.6%|
|50-99 milk cows||29%||24.5%||19.1%||13.8%||11.1%||8.6%|
|100-199 milk cows||19%||18%||15.4%||12.8%||10.6%||9.4%|
|200-499 milk cows||13.7%||15.3%||14.7%||13.8%||12%||12%|
|500-999 milk cows||8%||10.2%||12.2%||12.5%||11.3%||10.7%|
|>999 milk cows||9.9%||17.5%||28.8%||39.9%||48.7%||55.2%|
The Need For a Survival Strategy
While small dairy farmers simply cannot keep up with larger farms encroaching on their turf, they also have fluctuations in dairy prices to contend with. Milk prices fell in 2018, narrowing the gap between milk prices and feed costs so much that another wave of farm closures ensued.
To make matters worse, many small dairy farmers are close to retirement age, and according to the USDA, exits are more likely if the farm operator is 60 or older.
Despite the hardship facing small dairy farmers, analysts suggest that consumer backlash against large-scale production could present opportunities for small dairy farmers to create premium artisanal products. However, such initiatives would be entirely dependent on the state of the economy and where consumer’s values lie.
The Wider Implications
With milk production shifting to larger farms, a range of both direct and indirect impacts are being felt across the country.
For example, milk production is now predominantly focused in fewer states such as California and Wisconsin, which together accounted for almost 33% of all U.S. milk production in 2018.
In larger farms, the herds are typically confined to tight spaces— rather than grazing in pastures—making animal welfare an issue for many of these farms. Concern over waste contamination and air pollution also brings the environmental sustainability of larger farms into question as they come under more pressure to reduce their impact on the planet.
Looking beyond the production of milk, changing consumer preferences could result in the most transformative effects on both large and small scale dairy farmers.
While rising populations are increasing the demand for dairy, per capita milk consumption declined by 24% between 2000 and 2017 in the United States. Consequently, the largest dairy producer in the country, Dean Foods, filed for bankruptcy in 2019, followed by another major milk producer, Borden Dairy, just two months later.
Experts claim that changing consumer preferences, along with competition from other beverage categories, are responsible for 90% of the total dairy decline.
No Country for Old Farms
The confluence of changing economics and an aging population of farmers has brought the U.S. dairy farming industry to a tipping point, and the near future is likely to bring a fresh wave of dairy farm closures.
I don’t see anything that would give them hope at this point. The best advice I can give to these folks, dairy farmers, is to sell out as fast as you can.
– Joe Schroeder, Farm Aid
As smaller farms continue to disappear from America’s rural landscape, the impacts of consolidation will not only affect dairy farmers, but entire rural communities too.
New Waves: The ESG Megatrend Meets Green Bonds
With ESG investing outperforming benchmarks, could green bonds be next in line? We unpack the megatrend taking hold of the financial world.
New Waves: The ESG Megatrend Meets Green Bonds
It’s clear that sustainable investing has been thrown into the limelight.
Increasingly, investors are seeing both the financial and social imperative for sustainable investing. In particular, the rapid growth of green bonds—a fixed income investment that is designed to raise funds for the climate or environment—is booming.
The above infographic from Raconteur navigates the growing green bond market against the backdrop of the broader ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing shift.
By the end of 2020, $45 trillion in assets will adhere to sustainable practices, including ESG principles.
Despite the loss of confidence from COVID-19, investors flocked to sustainable-focused funds.In fact, global fund flows hit record levels for Q2 of 2020—surpassing $71 billion.
The fund flows are not without financial warrant. Between April 2015 and April 2019, average returns of socially responsible investments (SRI) outperformed their non-SRI peers. At the same time, 94% of sustainable indices realized stronger returns than their benchmarks between January and March 2020.
The accelerating demand for sustainable investments may seem like old news, but green bonds offer a new avenue.
What Are Green Bonds?
Green bonds raise money for climate and environmental projects, and are issued by governments, corporations, and financial institutions.
Multilateral development banks, which include the European Investment Bank and the World Bank, initially brought them to market in 2007, though they had a slow start. However, in 2019, new issues of green bonds topped $258 billion worldwide—jumping 51% in one year.
Across the green bond market there is a broad spectrum of different debt instruments. These include private placements, covered bonds, and green loans.
Green private placements occur when the sale of bonds are made to private investors, rather than through public offerings. Green covered bonds, on the other hand, are bonds that are backed by a group of assets that are sustainably-focused. Green loans are forms of loans that are meant to finance green projects.
Overall, green bonds can be diversified across a number of different sectors.
The Top Purposes for Green Bonds
What are the top sectors for green bond issuance?
Alternative energy, accounting for over $143 billion in green bonds, outpaces all other sectors by a wide margin. Within four years, renewable energy bond issuance has more than quadrupled.
Meanwhile, green building bonds are garnering attention. These instruments finance the construction of energy efficient buildings. Within the industry, a notable green building certification system is the LEED standard, also internationally recognized. Often, real estate investment trusts (REITs) are involved in issuing green building bonds.
Interestingly, Big Tech is also becoming more active within the green bond landscape. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has issued a record $5.8 billion in corporate sustainability bonds to fund everything from energy efficiency projects to affordable housing.
The Top 10 Countries for Green Bonds
On a country-by-country level, green bonds are most common in the U.S., China, and France.
|Rank||Country||Green Bond Issuance||2018-2019 Change (Amount)|
|Top 10 Total||$181.8B||49%|
Source: Climate Bonds Initiative
Germany issued its first multi-billion dollar government green bonds in just 2019. One catalyst behind this was the European Central Bank’s announcement that the environment would become a “mission critical” priority going forward.
This may contribute to the fact that both Germany and France saw the biggest change between 2018 and 2019.
Opening the Floodgates
As sustainable investing becomes front and center on the global agenda, questions about its impact on returns have arisen.
During times of both extreme exuberance and market crisis, companies with higher sustainability ratings have outperformed their respective benchmark. However, there is still a long way to go. Even with the record issuance of green bonds in 2019, they make up just 3% of all global bonds issued.
As demand for sustainable investments quickly grows, could it spell a watershed decade ahead for green bonds?
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