Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Domino’s bets on electric vehicles for pizza delivery

Photo of a Domino's Pizza restaurant sign
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Pizza giant Domino’s is trying out a high-tech new strategy this month to recruit delivery drivers: providing them with electric vehicles. 

Domino’s franchisees will begin receiving a total of 800 new Chevy Bolts — all bearing the store logo — by December, according to the company. 

The new cars are aimed at helping franchisees attract and retain delivery drivers, especially those who don’t have their own cars, Domino’s chief executive Russell Weiner told The Wall Street Journal.

A lack of drivers — which corresponded with a rise in delivery times and canceled orders — led to spiraling revenue losses for Domino’s during the first years of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Journal. 

The company is contracting with a division of car-rental company Enterprise to acquire the vehicles, perform maintenance and even install chargers for franchisees. 

“We’ve got a long way to go, but we will have the biggest fleet of electric vehicles in the pizza industry, period,” Weiner said. 

He added that the new cars should quickly pay for themselves by limiting costs for fuel and upkeep. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, we’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback.

Today we’ll look at the unprecedented language in the new U.N. climate change agreement — and why many say it doesn’t go far enough. Plus: why a railroad strike might come before Christmas, and an international race to clear space junk. 

COP27 concludes with looming questions over deal

The United Nations climate change conference (COP27) concluded this weekend with a deal to compensate developing nations for damages they have endured from climate change. 

Yet while the agreement establishes a fund for addressing the “loss and damage” that these countries have incurred, a number of details remain unclear, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported for The Hill.  

What’s in the deal? A transitional committee made up of 24 countries will be tasked with identifying funding sources and establishing a governance structure for the fund. 

The members will be nominated no later than Dec. 15 and will include 10 developed and 14 developing nations.  

Broader outlook: Nations also adopted a broader agreement, called the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, referring to the Egyptian city that hosted COP27.

  • That plan calls upon developed countries to “urgently and significantly scale up” assistance for developing countries, while stressing the need for immediate emissions reductions.  
  • The document supports “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” 

Harnessing external financing: The new loss and damage fund diverges from other U.N.-sponsored initiatives in that it will seek money from a variety of sources, including development banks and possible taxes on fossil fuels or airlines, Reuters reported.  

Governments that have traditional donor structures, such as the EU and the U.S., insisted on including this measure, according to Reuters.  

An open invitation: The agreement specifically contains a provision to “invite” global financial institutions to consider contributing to such funding arrangements.  

That provision specifically mentions both the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund as potential funders.  

How do the banks respond? A World Bank spokesperson said “there was a broad recognition of the need to increase financing for global public goods, especially climate action,” at the group’s recent meetings.  

  • “This message was echoed by others at COP27, with recommendations for Multilateral Development Banks to significantly increase climate finance,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.  
  • “These calls are welcome, as successful climate action will take a concerted global effort,” the statement added. 

Equilibrium has also reached out to the International Monetary Fund for comment. 

A CRITICAL STEP, BUT NOT ENOUGH 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the agreements as “an important step toward justice,” in a video message issued from Egypt.  

“Clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust,” he added. 

Not enough: While officials applauded the loss and damage deal as a breakthrough in supporting vulnerable nations, others lamented a failure to adapt more ambitious emissions reduction plans, The Washington Post reported.  

Attempts to insert an agreement to phase out fossil fuels as a whole failed in the face of opposition from China, Saudi Arabia and other nations, according to CNN. 

  • “What we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward for people and planet,” EU Commission President Frans Timmermans said at the COP27 closing plenary.  
  • “It does not bring enough added efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emissions cuts,” he added.  

What went wrong? COP27 was unfolding amid several broad challenges, including the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

  • The two biggest emitters — the U.S. and China — weren’t on speaking terms at the beginning of the summit. 
  • Meanwhile, many countries used the conference to promote their fossil fuel supplies, and COP27 President Sameh Shoukry had previously called natural gas “a transitional source of energy.” 

Filling the bucket: While COP27 delegates approved a loss and damage fund, it remains to be seen whether — and how — that fund will be filled with actual money.  

“A loss and damage fund has been established and that’s important on its own, but it’s an empty vessel,” Morgan Bazilian, a public policy professor at the Colorado School of Mines, told Equilibrium.  

  • COP27 provided a forum for actors from civil society to have their voices heard, according to Bazilian, who previously served as an energy specialist at the World Bank. 
  • But while these voices helped lead to the fund’s establishment, they typically “don’t have any actual money or power associated with them,” he warned.   

More than words: Another crucial step, according to Bazilian, is ensuring that any funds accrued are properly distributed if pledges do lead to real money. 

“Word are good for society, and they will make a difference over time,” Bazilian said. “But they’re not going to feed anyone or build infrastructure.” 

Check out The Hill’s site tomorrow for an in-depth look at the outcomes of COP27.

Railroad strike looms again

Members of one of America’s largest railroad unions has voted down a wage contract with rail carriers, the union announced on Monday. 

  • The deal was narrowly rejected by the transportation division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD). 
  • The National Carriers’ Conference Committee — which represents the rail companies — stated that it doesn’t “intend to engage in further bargaining over these issues.”  

Big implications: No deal means the possibility of a strike right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

  • Fears of such a supply-chain disruption led the White House to broker the just-rejected deal back in September, as we reported. 
  • Workers at eight other unions have ratified the Biden-brokered agreement, according to the Journal. 
  • Three others have joined SMART-TD in rejecting it. 

Why was it rejected? Continued anger at railroad sick leave and attendance policies, The Washington Post reported. 

  • “This vote is about the frustration that the railroads have created with [their attendance policies] and the deterioration of quality of life as a result for our conductors,” SMART-TD national legislative director Jared Cassity told the Post.
  • “Attendance policies, sick time, fatigue, and the lack of family time … are destroying [members’] livelihoods,” Cassity said. 

Will there be a strike? The union says it isn’t necessary — if the rail carriers go back to the negotiating table. 

  • “SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it’s now back to the bargaining table,” SMART-TD president Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement.
  • “This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike,” Ferguson added. 

Otherwise, workers could strike as early as Dec. 9.

Space trash race is getting crowded

Chinese researchers on Sunday unveiled a new space “sail” to help ground crews destroy aging satellites before they can turn into dangerous orbital debris. 

  • The new device was unveiled the week after an exploding Chinese rocket sent debris scouring area above the International Space Station, the Chinese Tiangong station and a constellation of SpaceX satellites. 
  • The new device is part of a bid by China to establish itself as a global leader in space-trash removal, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. 

New space race: Around the world, countries and companies are hurrying to find ways to clear or avoid orbiting trash, The Washington Post reported. 

For example, Japan is racing to develop its trash-removal capabilities in the face of Chinese debris-clearing competition, the Post reported. 

Mixed record: A malfunction caused a Chinese Long March rocket to break apart into more than 50 chunks last week, according to tech news site The Register. 

Incidents like these are one reason why “the greatest need for [space] cleanup soon could be China’s,” the Post reported. 

Sail solution: China’s new sail can be deployed at the end of a satellite’s or rocket’s lifetime — unfolding like a parachute to pull a craft from orbit, Xinhua reported. 

  • The sail — which spreads from a palm-sized package to 25 square meters (about 270 square feet) — traps the thin air of the upper atmosphere, creating drag. 
  • Eventually, the spacecraft slows enough that its orbit decays, causing it to burn up.   

How effective is it? Use of the sail cuts a derelict satellite’s time in orbit from up to 120 years to less than 10, according to Xinhua. 

Facing a growing problem: Space pollution is rapidly increasing alongside the growing near-orbital economy, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

  • The number of satellites could reach 58,000 by 2030, according to one estimate.
  • That poses a serious threat to a space industry expected to reach $1 trillion in revenues by 2040. 

Climate change piles on: As the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, space trash will stay aloft longer, according to a study published on Friday by the American Geophysical Union.

Monday Miscellanies

Hastening the construction of clean energy facilities, Saudi Arabia says it won’t stop selling oil and New Jersey gives bear hunters a (temporary) green light. 

Speeding up clean energy build-out could reduce related emissions  

Saudi Arabia plans to sell oil for decades — regardless of climate impacts

  • Saudi Arabia is trying to rapidly green its domestic economy — while opting to sell more of its oil abroad in coming decades and defying calls from climate scientists, The New York Times reported. This strategy aims to keep the world “hooked” on oil, by sowing doubt about electric cars and helping block any mention of an end to “fossil fuels” in the final statement from COP27, according to the Times. 

New Jersey OKs black bear hunting season

  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed an executive order giving black bear hunters a six-day season next month, The Wall Street Journal reported. The policy reversal comes amid a rise in the bear population and an increase in the number of bear-human interactions, according to the Journal. 


Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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