A new forum will leverage the power of corporate reporting to drive action towards accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by facilitating dialogue and collaboration between companies and their stakeholders.
The GRI Business Leadership Forum is built around a series of quarterly online sessions with representatives from key stakeholder groups – including investors, governments, regulators, supply chains, civil society and academia. GRI reporting organizations around the world can now sign up for this two-year program.
The forum, which will start in March 2021, includes:
A blend of expert guidance, peer learning and relationship building with multiple stakeholder groups
Practical support on identifying and understanding different stakeholder needs, in order to showcase the company’s commitment to the SDGs
Opportunities to demonstrate sustainability leadership, by contributing to a series of session summaries and masterclasses, as well as co-creating a final outcome report.
“To mobilize the efforts and resources required to deliver the SDGs, we need to do all we can to increase collaboration between businesses and other stakeholders. And as we consider how to achieve a sustainable and inclusive recovery to the pandemic, the urgency is all the more evident.
Our Business Leadership Forum will provide companies with practical insights that can raise the quality and strategic relevance of their SDG reporting. It also offers a unique opportunity for multi-stakeholder collaboration, unlocking better outcomes both from the business and sustainable development perspectives.”
Mirjam Groten, GRI’s Chief Business Development Officer
In October, GRI and Enel launched an engagement series exploring how partnerships and transparency can ensure action in support of the SDGs. Three regional events have taken place, which will inform a summit early next year.
Millions of wetland-dependent birds undergo long-distance migrations from wintering grounds in Central and South America to breeding grounds in the arctic and rely on wetlands to stop and refuel in the United States along the way. Shorebirds, which are a group of long-legged wading birds frequently found along shorelines and on mudflats, are notoriously long-distance migrants, even though individuals of some species, such as least sandpipers (Calidris minutilla), only weigh about an ounce. Refueling areas, known as “stopover sites,” are essential for migrating shorebirds to forage and replace fat stores during these energetically taxing trips. The midwestern United States is an important region that provides many of these stopover wetlands where birds stay for a few days to multiple weeks.
Plastic products permeate our environment and over time they break down. The microscopic size of particles, how long they last, and what is associated with them raise health concerns.
Although the health effects are still largely uncertain, recent research at the Illinois Sustainability Technology Center (ISTC) has provided some insight into what happens to plastics once they’re used and thrown away.
Microplastics are everywhere: in what we eat, drink, and breathe, according to ISTC senior chemist John Scott. They’re found in surface water, sediments and soils, air and dust, wildlife, and everywhere else scientists look.
“Plastics don’t ever go away, they just break down to smaller and smaller sizes,” Scott said. “They’re always out there. If I analyze something that doesn’t have microplastics in it, I think there’s something wrong.”
Plastics have been mass-produced since the 1950s, with an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons produced globally. Nearly 80 percent of plastic waste ends up in landfills and in the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the plastic waste problem with more shipping and packaging and the worldwide use of single-use products, such as gloves, gowns, and booties.
Since plastics have been engineered to last, the breakdown rates are incredibly long. Nylon fishing line lasts some 600 years, plastic bottles last 400 years, and plastic straws last 200 years.
“A child’s diaper can be around for 400 to 500 years—five to six times the child’s lifespan,” Scott said. “Even if we stopped producing plastics now, because of these legacy products, we would still have a plastic waste problem for many decades.”
What they absorb
Plastics act as sponges, absorbing all kinds of contaminants in the environment. In 2020, Scott and collaborators at the Annis Water Resources Institute submerged samples of different types of plastic for three months in Muskegon Lake in Michigan.
Findings showed that many pollutants such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and even pesticides concentrate on these materials at hundreds of times the background levels.
The group also found a group of chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), can stick to microplastics submerged in lake water. PFASs are human-made chemicals used in products such as non-stick cookware, cleaning supplies, and food packaging. Their stability and water and oil resistance are useful for various products, but the PFASs don’t break down readily in the environment or in humans, causing potential adverse health effects.
Scott’s team also tested PFAS adsorption on plastic in the laboratory, without the presence of organic matter such as biofilms. In the laboratory, the amount of PFASs that was absorbed into the microplastics was small (about 25%), yet the lake-exposed samples showed 600 times more PFASs were attached to the microplastics compared with those in the laboratory tests.
“We found only small concentrations of PFASs, but what was interesting was the discovery that they don’t stick to the plastic,” Scott said. “We believe that they stick to a biofilm of organic material that develops over time on the plastic from the lake environment.”
To understand microplastics and make accurate comparisons of plastic size and concentrations, researchers need to use a standardized method of detection limits. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed a method in 2015, which was designed to measure large plastic debris in surface water and on beaches.
The smallest size detected through this process is 300 micrometers, which does not account for microplastics that are small enough to cross biological membranes.
“We needed to push the detection limits to measure smaller microplastics,” Scott said. “If we use the NOAA method, we’ll underestimate the amount of microplastics in a sample.
In 2020, Scott and Lee Green, ISTC chemist, developed a way to count microplastics down to the size of 20 micrometers, sizes that would have been missed by the NOAA standard.
Another challenge was to find a standardized way to report findings. Estimating the number of plastic particles per liter wasn’t accurate because the particles can further break down during the estimation process. Instead, Scott and his team applied a detailed analysis of particle dimensions to estimate its mass.
What happens to them from the landfill to the treatment plant
Microplastics might be everywhere, but the hotspots are landfills. Plastic breaks down in landfills and becomes more mobile. Leachate, or water and waste from the landfill, is piped to wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), which are not designed to handle microplastics.
The sludge produced by WWTPs is commonly used on crop fields since the biosolids are high in nutrients. Once applied, the sludge material—and microplastics—is taken up by plants and runs into surface water and groundwater.
Scott plans a pilot study to examine the feasibility of treating wastewater to remove microplastics that come into plants before sludge is pumped back out into the environment.
Ideally, though, keeping plastics out of the landfills by reducing the amount produced, using fewer single-use plastic products, and better plastic recycling would be the way to go, Scott said.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a wide range of chemical gases emitted into the air from various products or industrial processes. Some VOCs are identified as hazardous air pollutants and may be harmful to human health. In addition, VOCs can react in the atmosphere to produce secondary pollutants such as ozone. Over the last several years, many areas across the U.S. have seen reductions in criteria air pollutants (including ozone) as well as hazardous air pollutants. However, there remain areas of concern such as those where VOCs and other air pollutants continue to be emitted near communities. People who are exposed to enough of certain toxic air pollutants for a long enough period of time could have increased chances of getting cancer or developing immune system, neurological, reproductive, developmental, respiratory or other health problems. Work must continue to ensure clean air for all communities.
The Rubbertown industrial area of Louisville, Kentucky, is home to over ten industrial sources of air pollutants and is adjacent to residential areas. The area is characterized as an environmental justice community, with a large number of people of color and lower income individuals living, working, playing, and attending school in and around the vicinity of the industrial facilities. EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment has shown that the Rubbertown area has an increased risk of cancer and other health problems.
To help understand how the emissions from these sources may impact residential areas, EPA collaborated with the City of Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District on a study from 2017 to 2018. They used novel Next Generation Emissions Measurement (NGEM) systems to measure hazardous air pollutants, including select VOCs, in the vicinity of Rubbertown’s industrial facilities. Among the advantages of NGEM systems are that they can be either stationary or mobile and can provide emissions and meteorological data to help inform air quality models used to characterize air pollutants at different spatial and temporal scales.
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS or PFOS, have been a key ingredient in numerous industrial and consumer products for decades. These man-made chemicals are prevalent and are also known for their longevity in the environment. More recently, PFAS have been the focus of thousands of lawsuits alleging personal injury and property damage. Some insurers have already questioned whether PFAS could rival asbestos in scope and bottom-line impacts. It is a legacy that confronts manufacturers and other defendants and insurers today.
This article provides a primer on PFAS, including the current regulatory framework and litigation landscape. We also identify some key emerging coverage issues insurers should be aware of when dealing with PFAS claims under liability and first-party property policies.
With continued deployment of solar across the United States, assessing the interactions of solar with the power system is an increasingly important complement to studies tracking the cost and performance of solar plants. This project focuses on the historical contribution to reliability, trends in market value, and impacts on the bulk power system of solar deployed in the U.S. through the end of 2019.
The scope of this analysis includes the seven organized U.S. wholesale power markets and is based on historical hourly solar generation profiles for each individual plant larger than 1 MW or county-level aggregate profiles for smaller solar. In addition, we present a limited set of results for ten utilities that are outside of the independent system operator (ISO)/regional transmission organization (RTO) markets.
The goal of the series is to inspire participants into climate action by providing participants with a better understanding of the science behind climate change and the social, ecological and political consequences of its impacts, while offering effective tools to work towards solutions