At Fortune’s Global Sustainability Forum, the Planet Is the Point: raceAhead

September 5, 2019, 4:57 PM UTC

Fortune’s inaugural Global Sustainability Forum 2019 is currently under way in Yunnan, China. It’s a convening of senior leaders from business, government, academia, NGOs, and other experts to address climate change and global sustainability. 

While it’s all essential fodder for anyone serious about understanding the enormous technological and environmental changes that are coming, one thing is clear: Collaboration is the only way forward. 

That said, there have been some real debates so far.

Tony Fadell, iPod inventor, iPhone co-inventor, Nest founder, and Future Shape principal gave a fiery presentation, reports Eamon Barrett. Fadell took on the plastics industry and waved off any notion that plastic waste can be managed: “Anyone that says plastics are a waste management problem is lying.” And they’re destroying us, he says. “It’s in your body, it’s soaking up toxins now, and they’re going into your bloodstream without a doubt.”

Earlier that day, Dow Chemical CEO Jim Fitterling argued the exact opposite. “I think there’s a lack of infrastructure in general to deal with the amount of waste we produce today as a society, and that’s what we’re trying to tackle,” he said. Plastic is the “most sustainable and environmentally friendly material that’s out there,” he said, noting that aluminum, steel, and glass all take significantly more energy to produce and recycle.

William McDonough, an architect, designer and one of Fortune’s 50 Great Leaders, told the crowd that he will turn away business from any firm whose CEO is not personally leading the company’s sustainability efforts. “I think it’s great if a company has a chief sustainability officer,” he says. “But the chief executive officer is the real chief sustainability officer, because he has to lead it. It can’t be delegated.” It’s not about incremental change, he says. “People talk about creating a less bad future,” he said. “Being less bad is not being good. We are looking for a future that is good.”

A truly good future is also an investment opportunity, explains Priscilla Lu, Managing Director, Sustainable Investments Alternatives and Real Assets at Deutsche Bank. “Green is the new black,” for climate- and sustainability-related investments, she says. “It’s also the right thing to do.”

Lu participates in two $300 million investment funds that are attracting bigname investors; she’s focusing on China in large part because the financing and political will are in place to encourage corporations to literally clean up their acts. 

“Corporations [are] feeling a sense of responsibility,” she says. “[It’s] really a culture of accountability. And I think when you look at these large corporations, setting the culture and the accountability for that… to measure and then be able to account for what its company is impacting with respect to energy usage, water consumption, waste that’s being produced… you are able to control and be more efficient about managing those resources.”

On Point

The design community just got more diverse The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA), the nonprofit trade group for fashion, jewelry, and accessory designers, has long taken heat for their homogeneous board. There’s also been more than a bit of controversy: Harvey Weinstein’s former wife and Kara Ross, host of the Trump fundraiser that angered Equinox members and employees, were both board members. Their recent exits to emeritus positions, along with two other retirements, opened up four board seats. Now, those seats have been filled by four designers of color: Maria Cornejo, Carly CushnieVirgil Abloh, and Kerby Jean-Raymond. "It seems like the CFDA has read the room," notes The Cut. Best of all, it was by design. Chairman Tom Ford told WWD that he was "rearranging the board so that it is more diverse in age and more diverse in every way." WWD 

A groundbreaking Vogue cover Four Afro-Dominican models, Licett Morillo, Manuela Sánchez, Annibelis Baez, and Ambar Cristal Zarzuela, are on the cover of Vogue Mexico and Vogue Latin America’s September issue, a historic first for the storied magazine. "As a top publication with high print and social reach, I want Vogue Latin America to be a platform where we highlight the diversity in Latin America and celebrate all types of beauty,” said Karla Martinez, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Mexico and Vogue Latin America in an emailed statement. Afro-Latinas are rarely seen in fashion magazines, click through for more from their many ecstatic fans. NBC News

Should black college athletes decamp to HBCUs? Jemele Hill is here to make the case. She begins with the story of Kayvon Thibodeaux, the 2018 top-ranked high school player who did a drive-by at Florida A&M University, a Tallahassee-based historically black university. While he ultimately chose a school with a bigger football program, his visit got the attention of Hill and many cash and prestige strapped HBCUs. "It was a moment of hope for HBCUs, and it should have been a moment of fear for the predominantly white institutions whose collective multibillion-dollar revenues have been built largely on the exertions of (uncompensated) black athletes," she writes. She also does the math on NCAA largesse, the value of HBCUs, and the racial wealth gap in the U.S., leading her to one big question: "What if a group of elite athletes collectively made the choice to attend HBCUs?" The Atlantic

It’s workforce development month! It’s time to bridge the racial wealth gap This is the passionate call-to-action issued by Molly Bashay, Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, and Melissa Johnson, from the National Skills Coalition, a nonprofit workforce development advocacy group. The piece is filled with useful stats and data on the racial wealth gap, all in service of the bigger case they are making. "Public policy decisions have played a key role in forming these inequities, and therefore, must be an integral part of the solution," they say. "And one place to start is on the hiring practices that result in racially inequitable outcomes for people of color." Fortune


On Background

African American workers are paid less than white ones at every level of education attainment If you’re looking to influence hiring practices at your firm, then here is a similar argument but with a slightly different approach. This report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, Black-white wage gaps expand with rising wage inequality, shows that while more education increases wages for everyone, it doesn’t change the persistent gap between black and white employees, even when controlled for a wide swath of variables. In fact, the gap between black and white employees with bachelor’s degrees and higher has been steadily increasing since 1979. Their recommendation: "Closing this part of the racial pay gap begins with consistent enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the hiring, promotion, and pay of women and minority workers, as well as greater transparency around within-firm pay by race, ethnicity, and gender." EPI

Is teff the new black or the new quinoa? Teff is an ancient African grain that accounts for some 70% of the local diet in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It’s hardy, drought-resistant, and sort of a perfect sounding food: Teff has three times the iron and nearly twice as much fiber as more familiar grains, and a more complete suite of amino acids, reports the Los Angeles Times. But Zion Taddese, once a former small farmer in Ethiopia who now runs the kitchen in Sacramento’s Queen Sheba Ethiopian restaurant, is one of a small but growing number of advocates who believe that teff can become an essential alternative in the U.S. when rice, wheat, and corn become decimated by climate change. But barriers, including caps on exports to protect Ethiopian subsistence farmers, might sideline teff farming before it has a chance to catch on in the U.S. Also: remember when the quinoa craze almost destroyed small Peruvian farms?  Los Angeles Times

Jamil Smith: Football is us A couple of years ago, Jamil Smith, then with the New Republic, declared that our national preoccupation with the violence of football said something important about us. "We need it partially because football serves as a kind of fun-house mirror for our national character," he says. He’d started his career as an associate producer at NFL Films, "the cinematic and myth-making arm of professional football," and spent hours watching clips looking for the best collisions to turn into thrilling montages. It was a year before Dr. Bennet Omalu published his now-famous research on brain injury in football. Later in the piece, Smith goes into necessary detail on the lives of beloved men ruined by game-related brain disease. But he is at his best when he explores the military-as-performance essence of the game, the nostalgia for a simpler time it exploits but never delivers, and how hard football is for a fan to give up. It ends with a photo of Smith as a young footballer that will touch your heart. New Republic

Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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“I wanted to study something that would help protect Dominica, and given that climate change is one of our biggest threats, I chose environmental law so we could have access to legal tools in the fight against climate change. Now that I live in the U.S., I realize that climate change is an issue about inequality—not only between countries, but also between people from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Ama Francis, environmental lawyer

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