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Current Climate: Extreme Heat Hits Miami, New Delhi And Mexico’s Tropical Forests

Plus: Why Enterprise’s EV strategy is an evolution not a revolution; Unilever’s search for sustainable ingredients

This week’s Current Climate, which every Monday brings you the latest news about the business of sustainability. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.

In Mexico, it’s so hot that howler monkeys in the nation’s tropical forests are falling dead from trees. In India, a brutal heat crisis – that sent temperatures in New Delhi above 115 degrees Fahrenheit – had local governments warning people to avoid staying outside. And in Miami, local meteorologists are calling the extreme heat of recent days, where temperatures reached 96 degrees before summer had even begun, “completely crazy,” “insane” and “dangerous.”

Three very different locations. But taken together they raise the same question of what the future holds if we don’t slow climate change.

A recent report from the ICF Climate Center called extreme heat “one of the deadliest and most widespread climate change risks,” and found that extreme heat could disproportionately hit disadvantaged communities across America. By 2050, more than 50 million people in disadvantaged communities could be exposed to health-threatening heat waves, compared with some 500,000 today, according to the report.

These rising temperatures are a big deal, and the impact from them could be wide-ranging, from stretched electric grids to increased heat-related illnesses. During last year’s warm season, from May to September, heat waves led to “substantially increased” rates of emergency-room visits for heat-related illnesses across several regions of the U.S., according to a CDC study. As the authors wrote: “Heat-related illness will continue to be a significant public health concern as climate change results in longer, hotter, and more frequent episodes of extreme heat.”


The Big Read

Enterprise’s EV Strategy Is An Evolution, Not A Revolution. Like The Company’s As A Whole

Scanning the first floor of the four-level parking garage outside Enterprise’s suburban St. Louis headquarters, CEO Chrissy Taylor points out an all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E and the black Rivian R1T she’s been test driving. “All our officers are driving EVs,” she said. “We put chargers in at corporate, but there aren’t enough for everyone. That’s my ploy to get them to come in early.”

Taylor is mostly joking, though she gets to the office at her family’s rent-a-car outfit—recently renamed Enterprise Mobility—most mornings before 8 a.m. But she’s dead serious about testing out new technology and not forcing it on her customers too soon. Especially electric vehicles. After hearing from renters that concerns about charging times, battery life and infrastructure would make them hesitant to drive EVs, Enterprise slowed its rollout strategy. “We embrace the transition to electric, but we have to make sure the customer is moving at the same pace we are,” said Taylor, 48, the third generation of her family to run the privately held giant.

Contrast that approach with the one taken by rival Hertz, which made headlines in 2021 and 2022 when it announced plans to purchase 100,000 Teslas and to electrify 25% of its fleet by the end of 2024. Despite aggressive discounting, it struggled to rent them. In March, Hertz ousted its CEO. A month later the company said it expects to lose $440 million selling off half its electric vehicles.

“This is an evolution, not a revolution,” Taylor said of Enterprise’s EV strategy. She could just as well be describing the company as a whole. For 67 years, Enterprise has been outpacing its rivals thanks largely to the Taylor family’s ability to keep their eyes on the long road ahead.

Read more here.


Hot Topic

Neil Parry, Unilever biotechnology R&D director, on finding sustainable ingredients

What areas are you working on?

The first area is high-value ingredients. Things like skin care active ingredients, anti-inflammatories, ingredients that go into collagen and elastin replacements.

We’ve started to come down in the price window, where there are volume increases. Biosurfactants. We’ve worked out how nature makes soap and we can make it efficiently through biotechnology. The nice thing there is we’ve got a material that actually outperforms traditional petrochemical-based materials. These natural surfactants produce much better skin feel and they don’t cause the potential irritation that you normally get from petrochemical-based ones. We’re gone from lab to factory, and launched in a number of countries. That’s gone into Sunlight.

Is the cost the same?

Not initially. But it is a material that has superior performance. Our mantra has been superior performance sustainably sourced.

What about when you go further down in cost?

What makes life a bit more challenging is the commodities space. This is why we have to try and help policy, to help us move into that sector.

We have signed a project with Geno. We linked with Geno and brought L’Oréal into that and brought Kao into that. It’s not what normally happens. Those three parties are all going in with the same mindset of being able to create palm kernel oil equivalents that we can make surfactants from.

Which products does palm oil go into?

It’s very much across the board where we use surfactants. We are one of the biggest users of palm. It goes right across the portfolio.

Has using AI helped you to make any of these changes?

AI and data information in biology has been the unlock. The work we’ve done with Arzeda is using physics and AI-designed approaches to make enzymes for our detergent business. We’re looking at new enzymes that people haven’t heard of before. We have isolated only 5% of all available enzymes. The problem is that there are more molecules out there and more combinations than you can think of. Nature didn’t design enzymes to survive in washing machines.

You apply AI engineering and you get 30,000 variants. The ones that look interesting go back and go to another 30,000. We call it design, test, build, so eventually you get to the enzyme that is the commercially relevant one. That process is basically sped up with the ability to manage data and screen what you need.

How long does it take?

A normal time frame from an idea to putting something in the marketplace is three to five years. If you’ve got an existing enzyme and you just want to optimize it, the time frames are a lot shorter.

Are there other areas that this combination of AI and biology is working for?

Understanding the molecular interactions of the microbiome and the skin. The amount of combinations and the amount of data and the impact on the body—it’s really hard to do that without AI. I think the AI tools are really helping us to do a lot of work in silico first, which enables us to make more predictive outcomes.


What Else We’re Reading

Mexico City’s water crisis is worsening

Why Washington’s tariffs on Chinese clean tech goods matter

Kobe Steel says it may build new electric arc furnace in decarbonization push

A new European law to make chocolate more sustainable has cocoa farmers racing to map their plots

Charging stations are failing to keep up with the EV boom

How 3M executives convinced a scientist that the ‘forever chemicals’ she found in human blood were safe

A Chinese phone maker did something Apple Apple couldn’t: Make an EV

Biden and Big Oil had a truce. Now it’s collapsing.

For More Sustainability Coverage, Click Here.


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