Business looks at climate change: Davos publications include auto manufacturing, electronic waste

The overall theme of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos Switzerland in 2019 was the 4th Industrial Revolution. Climate change issues were top of mind in discussions, as the annual  Global Risks Report for 2019  had ranked the top global risks to the world as  extreme weather and climate-change policy failures.  Discussions, speeches, blogs and reports are compiled on the themes of The Future of the Environment and Natural Resource Security and Climate Change   .  Highlights include : “6 things we learned about the Environment at Davos” , an overview which highlights Japan’s pledge to  use its G20 Presidency to reduce plastic ocean pollution; the launch of a new organization called Voice for the Planet  to showcase the youth climate activist movement: and  a pledge by 10 global companies have to take back the electronic waste from their products.  Also of interest, the speech by Greta Thunberg, who is at the centre of the new youth climate activism – “Our House is on Fire” ; and “Why income inequality is bad for the climate”,  a blog by the President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.

WEF Reports of interest: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology Innovations, which offers technology as a means to make the current industrial food system safer (and possibly more sustainable).   Shaping the Sustainability of Production Systems: Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for competitiveness and sustainable growth  discusses the coming world of manufacturing, focussing on the electronics and automotive industries of  Andhra Pradesh, India and the automotive industry in Michigan U.S.A., including a discussion of Cobotics 2.0 (collaborative robots) , Metal 3D printing, and “augmented workforce”.

new circular vision for electronics - 2019 reportThe circular economy was also discussed, with a spotlight on electronic waste, which is estimated at 50 million tonnes of produced each year currently.   A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot  was released by the E-waste Coalition, which includes  the International Telecommunication Union (a UN organization), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and others.  The report, summarized here,  is an overview of  e-waste production and recycling, and includes a brief discussion of labour conditions, calling for upgrading and formalization of the recycling industry as a “major opportunity”. It states:  “the total number of people working informally in the global e-waste sector is unknown. However, as an indication, according to the ILO in Nigeria up 100,000 people are thought to be working in the informal e-waste sector, while in China that number is thought to be 690,000.” As for the dangers… “using basic recycling techniques to burn the plastic from electronic goods leaving the valuable metals (melting down lead in open pots, or dissolving circuit boards in acid) lead to adult and child workers, as well as their families, exposed to many toxic substances. In many countries, women and children make up to 30% of the workforce in informal, crude e-waste processing and are therefore particularly vulnerable.”  According to the report, the International Labour Organization is scheduled to release a new report in March 2019, to be titled  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste.

Reports from Davos: Climate Change, Circular Economy, Ethical Supply Chains

The annual  World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brings together the corporate and political elites  – this year’s theme from January 20 – 23rd is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Yet climate change ranks high on the agenda and several reports relevant to climate change and labour have been released. Notably, the Global Challenge Initiative on Environment and Natural Resource Security project  produced The Global Risks Report 2016  , which ranks global risks, in terms of likelihood as : 1. Large-scale Involuntary migration; 2. Extreme weather events   3. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A project about the Circular Economy released a report commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and conducted by McKinsey & Company: The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of Plastics . ( press release here ). The new report addresses the problems identified in a 2014 report from the UNEP Plastics Disclosure Project, Valuing Plastic: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry , which projected that, “ in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget. ”

Regarding supply chains, a report by an Accenture consulting firm, Beyond Supply Chain: Empowering Responsible Value Chains   discusses the “triple advantage” of ethical supply chains which include environmental goals. The Accenture report paints a favourable picture of corporate behaviour, in contrast to Scandal: Inside the Global Supply Chains of 50 Top Global Companies, a hard-hitting report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC focuses mainly on working conditions and wages, as well as health and safety of workers. Bringing it all together and released in advance of Davos, research from the University of Sheffield concludes that “ Audits are ineffective tools for detecting, reporting, or correcting environmental and labour problems in supply chains. They reinforce existing business models and preserve the global production status quo…. The growth of the audit regime is carving out an ever greater role for corporations in global corporate governance and enforcing an ever smaller role for states.”  A summary of the Sheffield research appeared in The Guardian  on January 14; the full report is Ethical Audits and Supply Chains of Global Corporations  (registration required to download). A related article, focusing on the coffee industry, appeared in The Conversation (December 1): “Why corporate sustainability won’t solve climate change ” .

The Business Case for a Circular Economy: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as a Solution to Coming Shortages of Raw Materials

On January 24 at the the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched Project Mainstream, a collaborative project involving large enterprises capable of bringing the circular economy from small-scale pilot projects to the mainstream of business. The press release states: “With commodity prices almost tripling in the last 10 years, businesses and governments are now recognizing this as an opportunity to manage input cost volatility, as this approach decouples economic growth from finite supplies of primary resources.” Towards the Circular Economy, the report which accompanied the launch, finds that “over US$1 trillion a year could be generated by 2025 for the global economy and 100,000 new jobs created for the next five years if companies focused on encouraging the build-up of circular supply chains to increase the rate of recycling, reuse and remcircular economy v 3anufacture.” As an article in The Guardian points out, this initiative intends to tackle the scale and complexity of global supply chains-as well as a crucial stumbling block in recycling – the toxic contents of some products. Canadian readers will be familiar with these concepts from the 2013 report, Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Through Zero Waste in BC, which focused on the benefits to consumers and the environment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has published reports on the Circular Economy since 2010.

LINKS:

Towards the Circular Economy Vol.3: Accelerating the Scale-up Across Global Supply Chains is available from a link at: http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/business/reports/ce2014, and previous reports are available at: http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/business/reports

“Circular Economy offers Business Transformation and $1tn of Savings” (Jan. 24) in The Guardian at: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/circular-economy-business-transformation-one-trillion-savings

Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Through Zero Waste in BC, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Climate Justice Project (March 2013) is available at: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/closing-loop