Fast Furniture, COP27 & CLIMATE TRACE

What forces change? Both in people’s minds and actions? Is it education and reporting about our continuing bad behaviors, inaction and poor choices? Or something else?

Despite increasing costs, humanity’s desire for new shiny objects continues unabated. Many assumed that the “Fast Furniture” trend was only a side effect of COVID. But demand continues to rise, with just the e-commerce furniture market expected to grow from $21 billion in 2021 to upwards of $40 billion in 2030. Very little of this furniture gets recycled. The week before COP27, The New York Times reported that according to the EPA, Americans throw out an estimated 12 million tons of furniture each year “creating mountains of waste that have grown 450 % since 1960”. Toxic, non-recyclable materials are built into the design and supply chain of these products. Most consumers are completely unaware of these hidden costs. They just want a new table.

Does real change come from shifting consumer sentiment? Facing mounting pressure from consumers, the brands that have ramped up their sustainability commitments need immediate commercial scale solutions.  Furniture giant Ikea has even vowed to become fully circular by 2030, using only recycled or renewable materials and creating zero waste.  That’s a big commitment, but how the heck do they get there?  ECOR is getting attention from many of these brands because of the unique circular solutions we can provide, not in the future, but today. ECOR material is perfect for furniture as it out-performs wood-based products and it’s ability to be recycled is built into the design.

Fast Furniture is perhaps the perfect example of what UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez had in mind during his comments at the opening of COP27 in Egypt when he declared “We are on the highway to climate hell with our feet still on the accelerator”. While this statement grabbed headlines, activists derided the entire COP27 exercise as “greenwashing”. Will this kind of rhetoric result in any consensus coming out of Egypt?

As global leaders in Egypt wrestle with how to pay to stay at 1.5 degrees, it is worth taking note of the factors that can actually cause change.  Despite desperate appeals from activists and progressive leaders, it appears the on-going existential threat of “mass suicide” by inaction has not done so.  More practical and immediate economic challenges have caused movement.  For example, the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and dependence on Russian natural gas is providing motivation for change in the EU.  While recent images from Pakistan to Florida should provide a wake-up call, the parade of climate catastrophes may seem far away. The fear of a cold winter is Europe is forcing energy conservation measures and a dramatic increase the speed of investment in renewable energy. Ensuring energy security is less politically divisive than battling climate change.

While a picture can be worth a thousand words, facts and scientific data can also change minds and spur change. One the most positive developments coming out of COP27 is the work of the non-profit coalition, CLIMATE TRACE which aims to provide a new independent method of monitoring GHG emissions. By harvesting satellite imagery, remote sensing data and artificial intelligence, CLIMATE TRACE promises to track human caused GHG emissions with unprecedented detail and speed. Typically, self-reported data has come from governments and industry estimates that are not source point specific. By using direct independent observation, CLIMATE TRACE has identified the top 70,000+ GHG emitters on the globe, and created a useful graphic interface. This data could help fill in gaps that decision makers need to make real change with the kind of speed and precision needed today.

For retailers, customer sentiment is forcing change. As mentioned in our last post, the fashion industry is a good place to look. Fashion retailers have perfected the kind of engagement that allow them to know exactly what their customers want – products with a smaller climate footprint. In the building materials sector, supply chain disruptions have hit hard enough to cause many companies to look for reliable alternative solutions. Regardless of ECOR’s industry-leading sustainability credentials, many brands have given ECOR a second look as more reliably source of common flat panel materials like MDF and plywood. Since our raw materials are abundant and ubiquitous, ECOR becomes an attractive reliable source. The best part of our factory tour in Kaljevo is the “aha moment” when potential customers see the enormous piles of ECOR feedstock in person. Particularly for those with a wood product background, they suddenly realize this enormous volume of low cost feedstock would otherwise be expensive stacks of virgin timber. This is when both the supply chain and sustainability benefits hit home, as the sheer size and volume of the materials ECOR is replacing is mind-changing.

CLIMATE TRACE is backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Google’s non-profit wing and Al Gore. It is a consortium of more than 100 participating organizations, utilizing data from over 300 satellites. Their platform could bring more specificity to Phase 3 GHG emissions analysis desperately needed today to perform meaningful and accurate lifecycle analysis. While the platform has not been peered reviewed, we hope it exceeds expectations as a useful tool. Because of the ability of CLIMATE TRACE to accurately pinpoint the source of emission impacts in real time, the research team felt it was critical to provide the platform to decision makers now.

Granular data, economic forces, customer demand and supply chain reliability all seem like much more important factors to spur change than fear and platitudes. What factors led to the growth of rooftop solar systems and electric cars? It was likely fueled by the combination of tax incentives and the economics of energy savings, and to a lesser degree, education about what these technologies can accomplish towards climate goals. At ECOR, we hope that CLIMATE TRACE and other science-based efforts will provide a new set of tools, and incentives to support change. In our experience, it will likely be pure economics that make the change happen.