The past year has brought unbelievable turmoil and distress, but one thing has shone out like a beacon. Science.
We have turned our gaze towards scientists, tuning in for their updates. Then, at formidable, record-breaking speed they delivered vaccines against coronavirus. Indeed, it has been stated that “COVID-19 has reinforced the role of science in human rationality.”1
Science can respond quickly and effectively to a crisis. Whilst scientific advances continue in many other areas of human healthcare and disease management, the greatest problems facing humanity globally remain unsolved: climate change and biodiversity loss. Both risk disruption or harm to all areas of human health, our day to day life and economic stability. COVID-19 is a clear cut, single-issue crisis. Can science fix the widespread and complex challenges facing our environment? In waiting for the scientific solution, do we risk ignoring individual and societal responsibility?
Every part of the problem tackled is a benefit, however small. Recent developments show that science can be innovative and effective in helping our environment. From the domestic to the global, from the mundane to the luxury, from saving species to reducing carbon, science can offer hope by responding to challenges and solving diverse ecological problems.
Here are five examples of eco-innovation at its very best.
Autonomous drones – clearing ocean rubbish
Plastic and rubbish in marine environments have been a big topic recently. It’s shocking to discover that our oceans contain between 26 and 66 million tonnes of waste. The focus is often on coastlines or specific areas where waste gathers, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, approximately 94% of this waste is on the seafloor2. It may be out of sight, but plastics break down into damaging microplastics, harming marine life. The only current way of reaching this waste is using human divers – a time-consuming and labour-intensive approach.
The SeaClear project aims to clean up the ocean floor using autonomous vehicles to find and collect waste from the seabed. It’s a merging of technology, with drones and remote-operated vehicles which will use AI-based algorithms to map, identify, classify and collect litter, using a suction-gripper device. Development is well underway, and you can follow the project here.
The Q-bot – insulating in a tight spot
Underfloor insulation can make a massive difference to energy efficiency, particularly in older properties with 20% of all heat escaping through a suspended timber floor in a typical property3. However, insulating in these cases would involve the whole floor being ripped up which is not very practicable.
The Q-bot4 looks like a rugged remote-controlled car, but it is a crawler robot designed to fit in floor voids. It explores to map the underside of the floor and then applies a spray-on insulating foam, reducing heat loss and helping householders to reduce emissions by allowing them to heat their home more efficiently, all with minimal disruption.
Hookpod – saving albatrosses
Every day, hundreds of albatrosses die in longline fisheries as they are attracted to the bait and become caught or entangled. There are 22 species of albatross, all are declining and 17 are globally threatened and on the Red List of conservation concern5.
Hookpod is a simple, affordable way of preventing the accidental deaths of albatrosses. It fits permanently on the fishing line and keeps the fishing hook secured away until it is submerged to 20m depth, when it is released, safely away from seabirds. In doing so, it virtually eliminates bycatch – better for the fishing industry and better for the majestic albatross.
Sky diamonds are forever
Diamond mining is problematic, for both ethical and ecological reasons. Damage can be caused at the mine site that may result in farmland being unfit for crop production, contamination of groundwater, damage to nearby dwellings and the use of large quantities of water, drying up local wells6.
The founder of Ecotricity has led a project that extracts carbon from the atmosphere and transforms it into diamonds that are physically and chemically identical to mined diamonds7. They use only ‘ingredients from the sky’ including carbon dioxide and hydrogen from rainwater, and are created in a process powered entirely with wind and solar energy. They are possibly the most glamorous type of carbon storage yet and are considered ‘carbon negative’.
Greenhouse gases in the livestock sector
Alongside fossil fuels, livestock farming is one of the main causes of a rise in methane in the atmosphere, a gas which is 28 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat8. Changing the amount of gas emitted has historically relied upon individuals making more sustainable dietary choices.
Researchers have found that feeding seaweed to cows successfully reduces their emissions from burps and flatulence. In fact, a dramatic 82% less methane is emitted, and the effect does not diminish over time9. The seaweed has no impact on the taste of the beef or dairy products produced.
Science can clearly be a very powerful tool. At Holden & Partners, we want to be part of the solution. Alongside our B Corp status10, and our commitment to sustainable, ethical practices, we manage a range of Sustainable Investment Portfolios.
To us, sustainable investment strategies are those that support development opportunities which meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
We seek out investments that aim to make important positive contributions to the environment and society. For instance, our Sustainable Investment Portfolios invest in the Ninety One Global Environment Fund, which aims to support a transition to a decarbonised economy. This positive investment strategy has been created to offset the climate risk present in many conventional portfolios. Secondly, the FP WHEB Sustainability Fund invests in companies whose products and services have a positive impact on the environment and/or society.
A sustainable environment needs science, but it also requires societal change and behavioural shifts. As we move into a post-pandemic future, there is the chance to rebuild greener. Science can be a key part of the solutions, but, as with the vaccine effort, it takes the political will and the investment to make this happen.
For more insight into Holden & Partner’s approach to sustainable investing, our online webinar is a fascinating listen.
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