These days we are all striving for connections. In families, between generations, in neighborhoods, and even among co-workers. We rely on it for learning, for trading, for economic growth, for innovation and for global change.
If we didn’t know it before, we certainly realize it now: our connectedness—the ways we are knit together—holds both benefits and risks for our health, our economies, our communities, and our planet.
That’s the essence of sustainability, really. It’s not just an environmental issue but also a fundamental economic issue. And it’s not just a health issue but also a moral imperative. The size and complexity of the challenges we face require creative, systems-level thinking.
No one acting alone—no country, no sector, no scientist, no corporation—will effect meaningful change. Solving the world’s biggest sustainability challenges will require a new kind of innovation, one that leverages insights and expertise from across a broad spectrum of sectors and industries.
Tackling plastic waste
Take the plastic waste problem. Every year, $80 to $120 billion dollars of economic value is thrown away in the form of single-use plastic packaging.(i) Every minute the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean,(ii) and according to University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck, at the current rate, by 2030 it will be a football stadium’s worth of plastic waste being dumped into our oceans every day.(iii)
Stemming the tide of plastic waste will require innovation across the entire plastics value chain – from how it is formulated in the lab, designed into products, used by consumers, and ultimately collected, recycled, and disposed of.
Two years ago, Morgan Stanley launched its Plastic Waste Resolution,(iv) not because we produce or use a lot of plastic, but because as a global financial firm we are connected to the investors, the corporations, the governments, the innovators, and the nonprofits that can make a difference. If we all work together.
The resolution is very straightforward: as a firm, we committed to facilitating the prevention, reduction, and removal of 50 million metric tons of plastic waste from nature by 2030. As part of that, we’re underwriting the Debris Tracker app,(v) which supports citizen science by empowering individuals to collect and report data litter so scientists and researchers can better understand the causes of plastic waste in coastlines and waterways.
Our social compact
Of course, sustainability is bigger and broader than plastic pollution, and “environment” is just one leg of the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) stool. The last year, in fact, has brought renewed attention to the full spectrum of sustainability, and again, innovation and partnership were key to the response.
A relatively new product, “social bonds” are now helping foundations and other nonprofits fund the critical work of renewing communities, battling racial injustice, and securing a more equal future for all people. Last year, for example, Morgan Stanley partnered with the Ford Foundation to underwrite a first of its kind $1 billion social bond,(vi) which allowed the foundation to increase grant making to nonprofits during the pandemic and ensure the continuity of organizations fighting for equality and supporting vulnerable communities. And later in the year we raised our own $1 billion with a social bond that allocated capital in equal amounts to the financing and refinancing of affordable housing projects for low- or moderate-income individuals and families across the US.(vii)
That broad understanding—that sustainability takes integrated, innovative approaches to achieve—sits at the core of Morgan Stanley’s Global Sustainable Finance Group. We started it more than a decade ago with the express purpose of partnering with teams across our businesses to implement sustainable solutions and integrate sustainability into our products and services. It is also why as a firm, in September, building on our announced goal to be carbon-neutral by 2022,(viii) we became the first major US bank to pledge to reach net-zero financed emissions by 2050.(ix)
What seemed like a novelty to some back then has become core to many investor portfolios and corporate risk statements. Sustainable investing accounts for $1 out of every $3 under professional management in the US,(x) and is now a more-than $30 trillion market globally.(xi) In a recent survey, a remarkable 85% of US individual investors express interest in sustainable investing strategies,(xii) and we think the investment, the innovation and the commitment will only grow.
Real efforts are underway at our firm and across many sectors to develop, launch, and scale real sustainability efforts that together will make a difference for us and future generations. That’s good news, because our most pressing complex ESG problems will not be solved in silos.
(i) MacArthur, D. E., D. Waughray, and M. R. Stuchtey. “The New Plastics Economy, Rethinking the Future of Plastics.” World Economic Forum. 2016, https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics
(ii) Pennington, James. “Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans. This has to stop.” World Economic Forum. 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minute-one-garbage-truck-of-plastic-is-dumped-into-our-oceans/
(iii) Parker, Laura. “Plastic pollution is a huge problem—and it’s not too late to fix it,” National Geographic, October 6, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/plastic-pollution-huge-problem-not-too-late-to-fix-it
(x) Nason, Deborah. “’Sustainable investing’ is surging, accounting for 33% of total U.S. assets under management,” December 21, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/21/sustainable-investing-accounts-for-33percent-of-total-us-assets-under-management.html
(xi) Chasan, Emily, “Global Sustainable Investments Rise 34 Percent to $30.7 Trillion,” Bloomberg, April 1, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-01/global-sustainable-investments-rise-34-percent-to-30-7-trillion
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The world had a chance to avoid the pandemic—but blew it
The covid-19 pandemic is a catastrophe that could have been averted, say a panel of 13 independent experts tasked with assessing the global response to the crisis.
Their report, released May 12 and commissioned by the WHO, lambasts global leaders who failed to heed repeated warnings, wasted time, hoarded information and desperately needed supplies, and failed to take the crisis seriously. While some countries took aggressive steps to curb the spread of the virus, “many countries, including some of the wealthiest, devalued the emerging science, denied the disease’s severity, delayed responding, and ended up sowing distrust among citizens with literally deadly consequences,” said Helen Clark, cochair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and former prime minister of New Zealand, on Wednesday.
The report —COVID-19: Make It the Last Pandemic — takes a hard look at why we failed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. It also looks to the future, highlighting strategies for ending the current crisis and avoiding future ones.
Here are five key takeaways:
- We had an opportunity to avoid disaster in early 2020, and we squandered it. “The combination of poor strategic choices, unwillingness to tackle inequalities, and an uncoordinated system created a toxic cocktail which allowed the pandemic to turn into a catastrophic human crisis,” the authors write.
- Vaccine supply must be boosted and shots redistributed. The report calls on rich countries to provide a billion vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries by September 2021 and another billion by the middle of next year. It also pushes for vaccine makers to offer up licensing and technology transfer agreements. And if those agreements don’t come within three months, it calls for an automatic waiver so that production can begin where the shots are most needed.
- The World Health Organization needs more power and more money. The WHO should have the authority to investigate pathogens with pandemic potential in any country on short notice, and to publish information about outbreaks without approval from national governments.
- A new organization is needed to help the WHO. The report calls for the formation of a Global Health Threats Council composed of heads of state to ensure that countries stay committed to pandemic preparedness and to hold countries accountable if they fail to curb outbreaks.
- The pandemic’s impact on nearly every aspect of daily life is hard to overstate. More than 3 million people have died of covid-19, including at least 17,000 health workers. The crisis provided “the deepest shock to the global economy since the Second World War and the largest simultaneous contraction of national economies since the Great Depression,” the panel writes. The crisis pushed more than a hundred million people into extreme poverty. “Most dispiriting is that those who had least before the pandemic have even less now,” they add.
A nonprofit promised to preserve wildlife. Then it made millions claiming it could cut down trees
Clegern said the program’s safeguards prevent the problems identified by CarbonPlan.
California’s offsets are considered additional carbon reductions because the floor serves “as a conservative backstop,” Clegern said. Without it, he explained, many landowners could have logged to even lower levels in the absence of offsets.
Clegern added that the agency’s rules were adopted as a result of a lengthy process of debate and were upheld by the courts. A California Court of Appeal found the Air Resources Board had the discretion to use a standardized approach to evaluate whether projects were additional.
But the court did not make an independent determination about the effectiveness of the standard, and was “quite deferential to the agency’s judgment,” said Alice Kaswan, a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, in an email.
California law requires the state’s cap-and-trade regulations to ensure that emissions reductions are “real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable” and “in addition to any other greenhouse gas emission reduction that otherwise would occur.”
“If there’s new scientific information that suggests serious questions about the integrity of offsets, then, arguably, CARB has an ongoing duty to consider that information and revise their protocols accordingly,” Kaswan said. “The agency’s obligation is to implement the law, and the law requires additionality.”
On an early spring day, Lautzenheiser, the Audubon scientist, brought a reporter to a forest protected by the offset project. The trees here were mainly tall white pines mixed with hemlocks, maples and oaks. Lautzenheiser is usually the only human in this part of the woods, where he spends hours looking for rare plants or surveying stream salamanders.
The nonprofit’s planning documents acknowledge that the forests enrolled in California’s program were protected long before they began generating offsets: “A majority of the project area has been conserved and designated as high conservation value forest for many years with deliberate management focused on long-term natural resource conservation values.”
Meet Jennifer Daniel, the woman who decides what emoji we get to use
Emoji are now part of our language. If you’re like most people, you pepper your texts, Instagram posts, and TikTok videos with various little images to augment your words—maybe the syringe with a bit of blood dripping from it when you got your vaccination, the prayer (or high-fiving?) hands as a shortcut to “thank you,” a rosy-cheeked smiley face with jazz hands for a covid-safe hug from afar. Today’s emoji catalogue includes nearly 3,000 illustrations representing everything from emotions to food, natural phenomena, flags, and people at various stages of life.
Behind all those symbols is the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit group of hardware and software companies aiming to make text and emoji readable and accessible to everyone. Part of their goal is to make languages look the same on all devices; a Japanese character should be typographically consistent across all media, for example. But Unicode is probably best known for being the gatekeeper of emoji: releasing them, standardizing them, and approving or rejecting new ones.
Jennifer Daniel is the first woman at the helm of the Emoji Subcommittee for the Unicode Consortium and a fierce advocate for inclusive, thoughtful emoji. She initially rose to prominence for introducing Mx. Claus, a gender-inclusive alternative to Santa and Mrs. Claus; a non-gendered person breastfeeding a non-gendered baby; and a masculine face wearing a bridal veil.
Now she’s on a mission to bring emoji to a post-pandemic future in which they are as broadly representative as possible. That means taking on an increasingly public role, whether it’s with her popular and delightfully nerdy Substack newsletter, What Would Jennifer Do? (in which she analyzes the design process for upcoming emoji), or inviting the general public to submit concerns about emoji and speak up if they aren’t representative or accurate.
“There isn’t a precedent here,” Daniel says of her job. And to Daniel, that’s exciting not just for her but for the future of human communication.
I spoke to her about how she sees her role and the future of emoji. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
What does it mean to chair the subcommittee on emoji? What do you do?
It’s not sexy. [laughs] A lot of it is managing volunteers [the committee is composed of volunteers who review applications and help in approval and design]. There’s a lot of paperwork. A lot of meetings. We meet twice a week.
I read a lot and talk to a lot of people. I recently talked to a gesture linguist to learn how people use their hands in different cultures. How do we make better hand-gesture emoji? If the image is no good or isn’t clear, it’s a dealbreaker. I’m constantly doing lots of research and consulting with different experts. I’ll be on the phone with a botanical garden about flowers, or a whale expert to get the whale emoji right, or a cardiovascular surgeon so we have the anatomy of the heart down.
There’s an old essay by Beatrice Warde about typography. She asked if a good typeface is a bedazzled crystal goblet or a transparent one. Some would say the ornate one because it’s so fancy, and others would say the crystal goblet because you can see and appreciate the wine. With emoji, I lend myself more to the “transparent crystal goblet” philosophy.
Why should we care about how our emoji are designed?
My understanding is that 80% of communication is nonverbal. There’s a parallel in how we communicate. We text how we talk. It’s informal, it’s loose. You’re pausing to take a breath. Emoji are shared alongside words.
When emoji first came around, we had the misconception that they were ruining language. Learning a new language is really hard, and emoji is kind of like a new language. It works with how you already communicate. It evolves as you evolve. How you communicate and present yourself evolves, just like yourself. You can look at the nearly 3,000 emoji and it [their interpretation] changes by age or gender or geographic area. When we talk to someone and are making eye contact, you shift your body language, and that’s an emotional contagion. It builds empathy and connection. It gives you permission to reveal that about yourself. Emoji can do that, all in an image.