We’re taking a holiday break

We're taking a holiday break. Posts resume January 4.

Are utilities legally required to plan for climate change? ‘The devil is in the details.’

Read the full story in Utility Dive.

Electric utilities have a legal obligation to plan for climate change and its impacts under public utility and state tort laws, and could face liability if they fail to do so, according to a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

Electric utilities “should be reorienting risk assessment and management efforts” to address “increasingly knowable climate change impacts,” according to Michael Panfil, EDF’s director of federal energy policy and an author of the report.

The use of tort law, which covers harm related to civil claims, could provide “another legal mechanism for reforming local electricity distribution,” according to Ari Peskoe, director of Harvard University’s Electricity Law Initiative. But he said “the best approach” remains using the utility regulatory commissions to ensure utilities are prepared for climate change.

Atlantic Packaging announces Fishbone recyclable can carrier system

Read the press release.

Atlantic Packaging announces the launch of a recyclable can carrier system, Fishbone, to replace plastic ring handles. The Fishbone beverage carrier is a curbside recyclable, biodegradable, and performance tested product that will eliminate single use plastic from beverage packaging.

A sweet solution to plastics pollution

Read the full story from Northeastern University.

When Hongli (Julie) Zhu first came to the United States in 2007, she was surprised by the prevalence of single-use plastic containers at supermarkets and restaurants.

“The material is cheap and convenient, but most of these containers are not biodegradable,” says Zhu, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 27 million tons of plastic were diverted to landfills in 2018. Plastic doesn’t decompose over time. It gets broken into smaller pieces known as microplastics that pollute rivers and oceans.

Zhu knew she wanted to develop a better alternative to one-time use plastics. In a paper published recently in the journal Matter, Zhu and her research team describe their solution: Turning a sugarcane byproduct into a sustainable, compostable, and inexpensive material that’s durable enough to serve as tableware, and that biodegrades within 60 days.

The iconic American inventor is still a white male – and that’s an obstacle to race and gender inclusion

Thomas Edison remains the poster child of American invention 89 years after his death. Underwood & Underwood via the Library of Congress

by Anjali Vats, (Boston College)

When President Barack Obama signed the America Invents Act in 2011, he was surrounded by a group of people of diverse ages, genders and races. The speech he delivered about the legislation, which changed the technical requirements for filing a patent, highlighted this diversity by emphasizing that today anyone can become an inventor in the United States.

Despite Obama’s optimism about women and people of color inventing and patenting the nation’s new and innovative technologies, both groups still lag considerably behind their white male counterparts in being recognized as inventors and owning patents, in the U.S. and globally. Women and people of color possess the same intellectual capacities as their white male counterparts. Yet empirical studies consistently show that patent law overwhelmingly rewards white men for their labor and skill.

This is in part because women and people of color join science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in much lower numbers than white men. In 2017, women made up over half of the workforce, but held only 29% of STEM jobs. But even women and people of color who go into STEM fields invent and patent far less often than their white male counterparts.

The question is why.

As a researcher who studies race, rhetoric and intellectual property law, I can say that the U.S.‘s race and gender invention and patent gap results partly from a failure of imagination. The stories that people tell about invention in the U.S. continue to focus on white men – the Benjamin Franklins, Thomas Edisons and Elon Musks – without affording women and people of color the same larger-than-life status.

National myths about inventorship and political barriers to patenting set up women and people of color for failure by normalizing entrenched discrimination even when they join STEM fields.

The stories we tell about inventors

Critical race theorists show how legal terms and everyday narratives can look as if they create a level playing field while allowing implicit bias to thrive. In my new book, “The Color of Creatorship,” I look at how intellectual property law has evolved racially over 200 years.

Black and brown people are no longer legally prohibited from owning patents and copyrights, as they were in the 1700s and 1800s. However, seemingly colorblind patent and copyright laws continue to practically favor white male inventors and creators by using legal definitions and tests that protect inventions and creations that tend to match Western conceptions and expectations of, for instance, expertise and creativity.

From the now cliché “think outside the box” to Apple’s slogan “think different,” innovation, a central component of invention, is associated with breaking limits. Yet Americans have largely failed to change the ways that they think and talk about invention itself.

Even Obama’s speech about the America Invents Act begins by explaining how Thomas Jefferson epitomized the nation’s mythic spirit of invention and innovation. Yet Jefferson held the racist view that Black people lacked the capacity to be truly imaginative creators, let alone citizens of the nation. Breaking limits, it turns out, is most often a privilege afforded to white people.

The current historical moment, in which facts are negotiable, white nationalism is on the rise and the nation is weathering a pandemic, is an important time to redefine American mythologies of invention. Celebrating the inventive capacity of women and people of color matters. Recognizing their innovative genius, in films like “Hidden Figures,” helps transform what had been marginalized stories into narratives that are central to history.

Obama’s reference to Jefferson reinforced powerful, limiting conventional wisdom about invention and innovation. Popular cultural narratives frequently invoke the contributions of white men while erasing those of women and people of color. For example, the History Channel’s The Men Who Built America focuses on the inventions and innovations of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, business titans who achieved tremendous success via dubious ethics.

The show’s use of the Great Man theory of inventorship and entrepreneurship leaves out the many women and people of color, including Thomas Jennings, Elijah McCoy, Miriam E. Benjamin and Sarah E. Goode who, as legal scholar Shontavia Johnson shows, not only invented and patented during the same period but, as legal scholar Kara Swanson shows, used their work to lobby for suffrage rights for women and people of color. https://www.youtube.com/embed/gQo1cZtEpgY?wmode=transparent&start=0 A brief listing of notable Black American inventors.

Attacking Asian innovation

America’s white-male-centered imaginings of inventorship and patenting extend beyond the nation’s borders, in xenophobic pronouncements frequently directed at Asian nations. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently proclaimed: “Success in India is based on studying, having a job … where’s the creativity?”

Similarly, President Trump claimed to be “protecting the innovations, creations, and inventions that power our country” from Chinese graduate students, who are part of a racial group that has long boosted America’s economy, fueled global innovation and offered pandemic assistance.

Refusal to recognize diversity in inventorship is a bipartisan affair. Then-presidential candidate and current President-elect Joseph Biden made a shocking assertion about innovation in China: “I challenge you, name me one innovative project, one innovative change, one innovative product that has come out of China.”

Inventing new ways to talk about invention

Racist, sexist and xenophobic inventorship and patenting norms are not immutable facts. They are practices built on exclusionary stories and feelings, transformed into familiar myths, including that of the American dream. These exclusionary stories frequently function as dog whistles that have long been used to fuel white anxieties about people of color and men’s anxieties about women. They make it difficult for women and people of color to prove they have the expertise needed to invent and patent.

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However, as films like “Hidden Figures” emphatically show, it’s possible to tell inclusionary stories. I argue that telling them is an ethical act because it ensures that society recognizes the genius of people of all identities – race, gender, nationality, religion, ability, age – in contributing to invention and innovation, current and historical.

Rhetoricians frequently proclaim that “words mean things.” This is certainly true when imagining who has the capacity to perform certain tasks, such as inventing and patenting. At a moment in which the U.S. faces threats to democracy, environment and economy, it is more important than ever to invent new ways of talking about invention. People of all identities deserve the opportunities to create and own their innovative solutions for solving the world’s most pressing problems. More importantly, they deserve to be treated as full citizens in the realm of intellectual property and innovation.

Anjali Vats, Associate Professor of Communication and African and African Diaspora Studies and Associate Professor of Law (By Courtesy), Boston College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Green Chemistry JV InvenTeams Activity Guide

Expose students to the ways of creating a sustainable future and tackling the world’s biggest societal challenges through chemical science and invention.

The new JV InvenTeam Green Chemistry Activity Guide will encourage students to use green chemistry principles to invent bioplastics. Students will learn how chemists can apply green chemistry principles to invent products and materials that reduce harmful impacts on humans and the environment. Educators and students will be lead through a 7-part project to explore sustainable invention.

Topics Include:

  1. Invention Introduction
  2. Inventing for a Sustainable Future
  3. Reuse and Explore
  4. Experimenting with Bioplastics
  5. Optimizing our Bioplastic Inventions
  6. Prototype
  7. Communicating Green Chemistry Ideas

Purchasing the Invention Kit:

The invention kit is designed for 20 students and two educators, and contains most materials and tools. Kits may only be purchased with a credit card. Purchase orders unfortunately cannot be accepted at this time. Invention kit costs do not include shipping. Shipping costs from our east coast distributor for each JV InvenTeam kit range between $20 and $120 depending on location and kit. Instructions for ordering the kits is here.

5 easy reuse projects to become a DIY master

Read the full story at Planet Ark.

Turn your trash into treasure with these quick and easy craft projects.

Barry Callebaut reduces its carbon footprint by –8.1% as sustainability targets remain on track

Read the full story at Confectionery News.

Milestone highlighted in company’s Forever Chocolate Progress Report 2019-20, marking its progress towards the goal of ‘making sustainable chocolate the norm by 2025’.

Amazon bans ‘chemicals of concern’ from its Amazon Kitchen brand

Read the full story at Grocery Dive.

Amazon has banned a number of “chemicals of concern” from its Amazon Kitchen brand packaging that research has linked to negative health and environmental impacts, including PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), phthalates and BPA (bisphenol A), the company announced on Tuesday. 

Many of the banned substances have been linked to elevated risks for certain types of cancers, higher cholesterol, pregnancy complications, reduced vaccine effectiveness and other serious health issues. The Amazon Kitchen ban comes five months after the retailer was accused in a class action suit filed in California federal court of using PFAS compounts in private label plates labeled as compostable.

The substances will be restricted from the Amazon Kitchen brand sold in Amazon Go, Go Grocery and Fresh stores as well as Fresh delivery, but is not a wholesale ban across other Amazon private label or brand-name products.

Rabobank’s FoodBytes! winners offer solutions for food waste, climate change and improved health

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

In a year when food waste, climate change, social inequity and health & wellness have dominated headlines, it is fitting that the winners of Rabobank’s virtual FoodBytes! 2020 Pitch competition offer solutions to address these challenges and help move the food and agricultural industries towards a more efficient and equitable future.