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Sustainability Newsletter #53

 Published on 13/05/2024

#Key Figure - 5 times

E-waste increases 5 times faster than its recycling rate

The planet is crumbling under e-waste. This is the conclusion of the latest United Nations (UN) report published in March. Propelled by constant digitalization and electrification around the globe, the quantity of electrical and electronic equipment reached 96 million tonnes in 2022, resulting in a massive increase in related waste. In 12 years, these have almost doubled: in 2022, the world produced 62 million tonnes of e-waste.

Although Asia and America are the regions producing the largest quantities of e-waste in the world, this ranking changes drastically when we look at the per capita distribution. Indeed, in terms of e-waste production per capita, it is Europe that leads with nearly 17.6kg/capita. Yet if waste explodes, recycling does not follow. In recent years, only 22.3% of discarded equipment has been collected and recycled in an environmentally friendly way. The report highlights that e-waste production is increasing 5X faster than recycling. Behind this lack of e-waste treatment, UN experts point out “technological advances, higher consumption, limited repair options, short life cycles, increasing digitization and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure.” The recycling of discarded electronic equipment would represent an economic opportunity. If the associated costs are now higher than the benefits, the situation could quickly reverse, the report argues. If the global recycling rate reaches 60% by 2030, “improving e-waste management” could even “translate into a global net profit of $38 billion,” says Kuehr, responsible for the Sustainable Cycles programme at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

Sources: The Straits Times, Novethic, UN Report

Trends and Initiatives

Ultra fast-fashion: Shein and Temu shift into "airplane mode", putting air freight under pressure

Fast-fashion is soaring, and so is its carbon footprint. Already criticized for its model based on overconsumption, social impacts, and the toxicity of some of its products, it is also under scrutiny for its exponential use of air freight. This practice allows the two new e-commerce giants to reduce delivery times between China, where items are designed and produced at record speed, and the rest of the world: shipping parcels by air cuts down the delivery time from five to six weeks by sea to just a few days. As a result, while Chinese ultra fast-fashion brands are gradually gaining market share in Europe and the United States, demand has skyrocketed since mid-2023, reportedly "disrupting the global air freight industry," according to Reuters. According to figures collected by Reuters from Cargo Facts Consulting, Shein is estimated to ship nearly 5,000 tonnes of products per day, while Temu transports about 4,000 tonnes of goods daily by air. The phenomenon is such that fast-fashion now accounts for 1/3 of global long-distance cargo aircraft. While raw material production and garment manufacturing represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the textile industry, the proportion attributed to transportation increases significantly when air freight is prioritized. According to the authors of the report published by Public Eye, the carbon footprint of a product shipped by air is then 14 times higher than that of an item transported by sea.

Sources: Reuters, Novethic, Public Eye

Sustainable Finance

EU parliament approves new law to boost manufacturing of key decarbonization technologies

In April, lawmakers in the European Parliament voted to approve the Net-Zero industry Act (NZIA), a new law aimed at supporting EU manufacturing of key technologies needed to achieve Europe’s climate and energy goals. The NZIA was initially proposed by the European Commission in March 2023, forming one of the key elements of its Green Deal Industrial Plan strategy to enhance the competitiveness of Europe’s industries. The new legislation supports a series of 19 specific technologies, ranging from solar photovoltaic, thermal technologies, onshore and offshore renewable energy, batteries and storage, to heat pumps and grid technologies. The project details a series of targeted actions to support development in the EU, including streamlining permitting processes, setting an objective to reach 50 million tonnes of annual CO2 storage by 2030, as well as introducing sustainability and resilience criteria in public procurement and auctions. The NZIA also sets targets for the EU to produce at least 40% of its annual deployment needs for the technologies necessary to achieve the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets, as well as to capture 15% of the global market value for the technologies.

Sources: ESG Today, Jones Day

Society and Planet

TikTok Lite suspends its new rewards system in the EU zone, accused of promoting screen addiction

In April, the social network TikTok announced a "voluntary" suspension of the feature on its new TikTok Lite app that rewards users for screen time. This action follows an investigation by the European Commission, which deemed the mechanism posed "serious risks to users' mental health" and threatened to sanction the Chinese social network. Indeed, TikTok, owned by the Chinese group ByteDance, had launched a controversial new service at the end of March in France and Spain. TikTok Lite rewards users with tokens if they log in daily for 10 days, spend time watching videos, and complete certain actions like liking videos and following content creators. These coins can then be exchanged for gift cards on partner sites like Amazon.

However, the European Commission highlights that the platform did not communicate a risk assessment to Brussels before its launch, as required under its obligations within the new European Digital Services Act (DSA). The Chinese platform was already under investigation by the Commission, opened in February, for alleged failures in protecting minors. Therefore, the European Commissioner for Digital Affairs emphasized that procedures regarding the "risk of addiction" to the platform are ongoing.

Sources: Le Monde, CNN, Yahoo Finance


Low-cost airlines "boost" carbon emissions from the aviation sector

Air traffic is picking up again. Hampered for several months by the health crisis and successive lockdowns, the sector quickly rebounded, coming closer last year to the historical levels recorded in 2019. An “uncontrolled recovery” boosted by low-cost airlines according to a study by Transport & Environment (T&E) published in April. “This rebound in air travel is boosted by low-cost airlines, which increased their number of flights by +13% last year,” the aviation director told T&E in a statement. Three airlines are particularly targeted by this growth: Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions are also exploding, reaching nearly 20.3 million tonnes of CO2 last year. In the top 10 most polluting airlines in Europe, T&E ranks easyJet, Transavia and Ryanair among the worst players. It should be noted that at the European level, the British company Ryanair occupies the first position in the ranking with nearly 15 million tons of CO2 emitted in 2023, with a 48% increase in its CO2 emissions compared to 2019. The trend should not be reversed in the coming months. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is expecting a new world air traffic record for 2024. According to the organization’s forecasts, it could for the first time exceed pre-covid levels with 4.7 billion travelers.

Sources: Novethic, The Brussels Times, Transport & Environment

Company News

Nestlé destroys 2 million bottles of Perrier over bacterial contamination

-          Company : Nestlé

-          Sector : Food & Beverages

-          Clover rating : 5/10

The Swiss food giant is facing a string of scandals, with its sustainability ratings weakening year after year. In April, the company was compelled by a prefectural order to destroy two million bottles of its Perrier brand due to fecal bacteria found in one of its extraction wells. Following this announcement, Nestlé's stock plummeted by 3.3%, with a 22% decline over the year. These revelations are likely to further weaken the company, which had already admitted earlier in the year to using prohibited treatments on mineral waters in France and Switzerland (UV disinfection, activated carbon filtration) to ensure safe consumption. Under pressure from shareholders regarding healthy foods at its last AGM, the group, which saw sales drop in the first quarter, could face more turbulence with the ongoing revelations. In April, a study by the Swiss NGO Public Eye also revealed that Nestlé's baby products sold in emerging countries contained more sugar than those sold in Western countries.

Sources: Le Monde, Public Eye, Novethic


Apple commits to 100% renewable energy use for its supply chain by 2030

-          Company : Apple Inc.

-          Sector : Technology Hardware & Equipment


-          Clover rating : 5/10

Apple announced significant progress towards its goal to decarbonize its value chain, including revealing that more than 320 suppliers – representing 95% of the company’s direct manufacturing spend – have now committed to use 100% renewable energy for Apple production by 2030, up from around 250 suppliers last year. Emissions from the product manufacturing represents nearly 2/3 of Apple’s carbon footprint, with electricity use as the single largest contributor. In October 2022, Apple urged its supply chain to decarbonize their entire Apple-related Scope 1 and 2 emissions footprint, and notified suppliers that progress towards these goals would be one of the key criteria considered when awarding business. Since that time, the use of clean energy in Apple’s supply chain has grown rapidly, reaching 16.5 GW currently, up 20% over last year, and more than 55% higher than 2022. Apple said that its supply chain generated more than 25.5 million MW of clean energy last year, avoiding over 18.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

Sources: ESG Today, Energy Digital, Seneca


SSAB invests $5 Billion in a new “green steel” plant, without fossil energy

- Company : SSAB

- Sector : Materials 

- Clover rating : 6/10

Sweden-based global steel company SSAB announced a decision to build a fossil-free mini-mill in Luleå, Sweden, capable of producing 2.5 million tonnes of carbon emission-free steel annually. Total investment in the new mill is estimated at €4.5 billion, and the project is expected to reduce Sweden’s CO2 emissions by 7%. Steelmaking is one of the biggest emitters of CO2 globally, with total greenhouse gas emissions from the sector accounting for 8% of direct emissions from the global use of fossil fuels. According to SSAB, the new mill will run on fossil-free electricity and use only fossil-free energy sources. The project will consist of two electric arc furnaces in place of blast furnaces. Startup of the new mill is planned at the end of 2028 with full capacity one year later.

Sources: Reuters, ESG Today, Bloomberg


2024 off to a record-warm start

Global temperatures have been exceptionally high over the past four months – at around 1.6C above pre-industrial levels – following the peak of current El Niño* event at the start of 2024. While margins remain low, the past 11 months have all set new temperature records. The figure below shows how global temperature so far in 2024 (purple line) compares to each month in different years since 1940 (with lines coloured by the decade in which they occurred) in the Copernicus/ECMWF ERA5 surface temperature dataset. 

Temperatures for each month from 1940 to 2024, data from Copernicus/ECMWF ERA5

Every month from June 2023 onward – 11 months in a row – have set a clear record. The past four months have each been around 0.1C warmer than the prior record set during the 2016 super El Niño event.

Sources: Copernicus, RTBF, CarbonBrief

*El Niño : climate pattern characterized by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It is the "warm phase" of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. El Niño can significantly influence weather patterns, ocean conditions, and marine fisheries worldwide.

Sustainability Newsletter 53