A Hydrogen-Led Net-Zero Future, Seagrass-Based Carbon Credits, And A Chat With Tetra Pak’s Lars Holmquist

This week’s Current Climate, which every Saturday brings you a balanced view of sustainability news. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested this week that the Senate should “can” the whole Build Back Better Act, which the Democrats have hailed as a historic investment in clean energy and climate solutions. The legislation includes tax credits to manufacturers of electric vehicles whose workforce is unionized, which is not Tesla’s case. It’s nonetheless an apparently contradictory position for the world’s richest person, whose businesses benefited from nearly $5 billion in government support, as reported by the LA Times in 2015.

But Tesla is currently facing turbulence—a second sexual harassment lawsuit, a SEC investigation (as reported by Reuters) and delays at its Gigafactory in Germany which will likely push its opening into 2022. More competition would only add to those headaches.

This week, we’re also looking into hydrogen’s potential to usher in a net-zero future, the world’s first seagrass-based carbon credit program, and more. For Climate Talks, I spoke to Lars Holmquist, Tetra Pak’s executive vice president for sustainability and communications, about the company’s plans to reduce waste and produce renewable packaging.

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Why Hydrogen Will Likely Be The Gateway To Net-Zero

Governments around the globe see hydrogen as a catalyst to net zero and are targeting monies to research and development.

The Progress

An Italian judge cited the “rapid expansion of the pathological phenomenon of greenwashing” in a ruling against an automotive textile supplier that was found to be overstating claims about the environmental benefits of its products.

Thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s $2.5 billion towards electric school buses, America’s fleet of humble yellow school buses is on the cusp of an exciting transformation into a greener and less polluting form of transportation.  

In the Atlantic Ocean, off Virginia’s southern coast, a meadow of underwater grass has been inching along for roughly 25 years. Now close to ten thousand acres wide, it’s poised to become the world’s first verified seagrass-based carbon credit program.

The Challenges

While the science around climate change is well understood, misinformation about the phenomenon and its causes is still widespread on social media. Despite calls from a leading U.S. scientist for YouTube to take down climate skeptic content, the platform says its current practices are enough to tackle the spread of misinformation.

Warming waters in the eastern coast of Australia is forcing tiger sharks to move southward to find more suitable habitats but, in doing so, they might start competing with other species for resources, impacting the whole ecosystem.

Unsustainable land management practices, coupled with the pressures of climate change, continue to impact soil health in the Caribbean, threatening to rob the region of its prospects for a food secure future.

Trailblazing Oceanographer Sylvia Earle On Why We Must Act Now To Safeguard The Ocean, ‘Our Life Support System’

Legendary oceanographer and marine biologist Sylvia Earle has been sounding the alarm over the state of the environment for decades, but she also believes we are lucky to be living in this time.

Climate Talks

Lars Holmquist heads marketing and sustainability at Swedish-Swiss packaging and processing giant Tetra Pak. The nearly 80-year-old company is a key component of many food and drinks’ global value chains, and therefore has a big role to play in the fight against waste. Holmquist talks to Forbes about Tetra Pak’s sustainability goals. 

What are the challenges involved in making sure that a package is recycled?

It starts with consumer awareness that it is recyclable, but of course, that’s not enough. They need to know where to go and what to do with it. Then there needs to be a sorting and recycling infrastructure close by, so you can separate the fiber material, the polyethylene, the aluminum. Then there needs to be recycling capacity close by, so you don’t need to ship it to another country, and then there needs to be an aftermarket for this as well. This is all something that we are intimately involved in. We are creating partnerships in that chain to make sure that we drive a sustainable value system of collection and recycling. Awareness, access to sorting, mailing, recycling, and then ultimately the aftermarket are areas we’re heavily investing in to make it possible. 

We [also] need a technology breakthrough in terms of how a package is designed and the specification of a carbon package, never compromising safety and making sure that it lasts to keep the products safe and last for a long time around the world. So that means that we’re going to reduce that ‘non-renewable’ content gradually and ultimately we’re going to deliver a 100% renewable ambient aseptic packaging made from 100% renewable resources, which is fully recyclable, but also carbon neutral. We are investing about €100 million in this development currently, and we’re going to continue for the next five to 10 years to put at least that amount into that kind of breakthrough technology. 

Have you considered whether, once this new packaging is ready, you’d be willing to make its manufacturing process available for the whole industry to benefit?

It’s difficult for me to say what other companies should do. What is important for me is that we have a technology that enables a fully renewable, fully recyclable carbon neutral package. Then we will have to make decisions along the way. Where do we make this open and how do we make it accessible? What kind of agreements could we do? So I’m not saying no, but I cannot share with you right now what the plans are to make it available for other companies.

How do you ensure the packaging will be carbon neutral?

We look at a full lifecycle and we will ensure that we’re offsetting any of the emissions that are created. We believe that we can reach a very small amount of offsetting rate, which will, by the way, we are working on and land restoration programs ourselves, which then will be hopefully able to offset any residual emissions that are there.

The nature of your products means you’ll be part of many companies’ scope 3, also known as corporate value chain, emissions. How do you manage your own scope 3 emissions?

Most of the emissions in [our] value chain are scope three. Over 40% comes from upstream, which is primarily boards and polyethylene, and also a bit of aluminum suppliers. We’re working on a supplier program to make sure that our suppliers meet those targets for us to be able to deliver on our ambition of net zero in the value chain by 2050. On the downstream side, probably another 40 or 42% is also on our customers and the distribution and the retail side. We’re working a lot with production to make sure that we reduce the energy consumption, water consumption, emissions, and food waste.

Lars Holmquist’s answers were condensed and edited for clarity.

On The Horizon

It’s time to settle these three frequently asked questions about climate change once and for all to advance the narrative on the actions that need to be taken to tackle the climate crisis.

A Deeper Look

An increase in rocket launches creates an increase in pollution, as the powerful engines burn fossil fuels like kerosene or methane to power them to the stars. But there are entrepreneurs looking to reduce that pollution. In comes bluShift Aerospace, which makes bio-derived fuel-based rockets.

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