All posts in “sustainability”

Amazon now lets Prime members pick a day of the week to get all their purchases at once

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Amazon just introduced a new way to help Prime members feel less guilty about ordering a bunch of packages. 

The e-commerce giant announced Thursday the creation of “Amazon Day.” Now, Amazon Prime customers can opt to receive all of their purchases on the day of the week of their choice. And, whenever possible, Amazon will group these purchases into one package to reduce shipping materials like cardboard. 

“Prime members can now choose to get their orders delivered together in fewer boxes whenever possible on the day that works best for them,” Maria Renz, Amazon’s vice president of delivery experience, said in a public statement.

The initiative is part of Amazon’s Shipment Zero initiative, which aims to make Amazon shipments net carbon zero, with 50 percent of shipments meeting that standard by 2030. Renz claimed in the statement that a test of the program has “reduced packaging by tens of thousands of boxes” since it started in November, although Amazon did not specify how many people took part in the test.

Now you can opt to receive all of your Amazon packages on the same day.

Now you can opt to receive all of your Amazon packages on the same day.

Image: Amazon

Online retail is convenient for consumers, but a nightmare for the environment. Multiple investigations and academic papers have shown how individual shipping uses more resources than retail. As reported in Fast Company, 165 billion packages are shipped in the U.S. per year, consuming the resources of 1 billion trees. Amazon last reported that it shipped over 5 billion items worldwide in 2017. That number has likely only grown, since Amazon passed 100 million subscribers in 2018, and eMarketer projects that more than half of U.S. households will become Amazon Prime subscribers in 2019. Good for Amazon, bad for the planet.

Amazon Day, as part of Shipment Zero, could be a good step toward reducing the company’s carbon footprint. It is maddening to open one box, only to find another box inside of it — a frequently reported phenomenon caused by Amazon’s fast packaging warehouse system. Amazon already gives you the option to group shipments of orders you place at the same time, but this takes that a step further by hopefully consolidating all purchases in one master box.

Amazon also points out that this could help cut down on package theft because you can choose to have your items delivered on a day you know you’ll be home. 

Still, part of the convenience of Amazon Prime is near immediate shipping, with the ability to get packages in two days, one day, or sometimes even the same day. With Amazon Day, you can still opt to get eligible items that way, if there’s something you need immediately.

Amazon Day is a good step, but the problem might not be so simple. The waste caused by packaging is a symptom of our addiction to convenience and immediate gratification, attained at the expense of the trees cut down for boxes, petroleum processed for tape, and energy spent for transportation.

But by all means, pick your Amazon Day.

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This waste-to-energy plant doubles as a ski slope

Copenhagen’s waste-to-energy power plant lets you ski on its roof, while it converts 400,000 tons of trash into electricity and heating. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, Copenhill hosts one of the world’s largest artificial ski slopes. It will soon be welcoming guests to hit its slopes with or without snow, 365 days a year. 

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company — including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger startup ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site-selection process, this became a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But, of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the U.S., but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high-paying jobs and, of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, 50 cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns and major metros, have joined with more than 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are seven cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids, but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 

Austin

Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier-one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in more than 50 years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world-class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.

Baltimore

Baltimore is home to more than $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.

Buffalo

The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and more than 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high-potential minority- and/or women-owned startups.

Denver

Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 

Providence

With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher-education institutions — including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design — making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with more than 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 

Tampa

Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These seven cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast-forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.

Enveritas’ technology lets small growers tap into the market for sustainable coffee

Demand for sustainable coffee is growing, a boon for socially conscious coffee lovers–but many small growers are missing out because they lack the ability to verify that their coffee beans are grown using fair labor and eco-friendly practices. In fact, verification is often accessible only to large coffee estates or cooperatives. Enveritas wants to change that. The non-profit, which recently completed Y Combinator’s accelerator program, uses geospatial analysis to make the process more efficient, enabling it to offer free verification to small farms.

Enveritas’ goal is to end poverty in the coffee sector by 2030. Before founding Enveritas in 2016, CEO David Browning and head of operations Carl Cervone worked at TechnoServe, a non-profit that serves businesses in developing economies. Browning led TechnoServe’s global coffee practice, while Cervone advised coffee growers in Africa, Asia and Latin America about sustainability trends.

Browning tells TechCrunch that TechnoServe’s coffee team spent a lot of time working with small farmers, many of whom don’t have access to sustainability verification because their farms are too remote or small. The typical coffee grower served by Enveritas has less than two hectares of land, lives on less than $2 a day and relies on cash crops for their family’s income.

“The existing solutions work well for large estates and it can also be effective for farmers organized into cooperatives, but many of the world’s coffee farmers are smaller farmers and not organized into estates,” Browning explains. “For those farmers, the existing solutions can be more difficult to access.”

Part of the reason is because many verification solutions rely on field workers who visit farms and track sustainability standards using pen and paper, a time-consuming and costly process.

To develop a more efficient and scalable system, Enveritas uses geospatial and machine learning to identify coffee farms through satellite imagery and monitor for issues like deforestation. Though it still relies on local partners to visit farms and confirm that sustainability standards are being followed, its technology enables Enveritas to provide verification services for free.

Enveritas checks for 30 standards, which it divides into three categories: social, environmental and economic. “Social” includes no child labor and workers’ rights; “environmental” checks for problems like deforestation, pollution or banned pesticides; and “economic” covers fair wages, ethical business practices and transparent pricing, among other standards.

The organization currently operates in 10 countries, including Uganda, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, with plans to expand into more markets.

Sustainable coffee isn’t just in demand by caffeine lovers with a penchant for social justice. Many of the world’s biggest coffee companies, including Illy and Starbucks, have launched sustainability initiatives as part of their corporate responsibility measures. Offering coffee grown using fair labor or environmentally friendly practices also helps differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace. Research by the National Coffee Association, an American trade group, recently found that many millennials prefer sustainable coffee, with up to two-thirds of 19 to 24 year olds surveyed said they pick their coffee based on whether it was grown using environmentally-friendly practices and fair labor.

While coffee is currently its main focus, Browning says Enveritas’ system can be applied to other agricultural products that need more visibility in their supply chains. For example, it can also be used to verify the sustainability of cocoa, cotton and palm oil.

As a non-profit, Enveritas faces different funding challenges from other tech startups. Browning says it is currently at the equivalent of being ready for a Series A. Much of its backing comes from coffee companies (Enveritas can’t disclose which ones) who hope to benefit from Enveritas’ solutions.

“One of the advantages of this system is that it reduces the cost for coffee companies relative to the traditional pen and paper system, but it’s also simultaneously free for farmers,” Browning says. “That’s one of the most compelling innovations, so it’s a win-win for both.”