Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — US trash bin washes up on Irish beach


Today is Tuesday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

A trash can blanketed in barnacles has traveled 3,500 miles by sea to wash up on the shores of Mulranny Beach in Ireland, from its transatlantic origin in Myrtle Beach, S.C., The New York Times reported.

“The first reaction was, ‘Wow,’” Keith McGreal, a safety and environmental officer who found the trash can, told the Times. “I said, ‘This is not from Ireland.’”

After spotting the giant blue barrel, McGreal and his kids raced toward the tub to read the fine print, the Times reported. McGreal then wrote to the city of Myrtle Beach, where public information officer Mark Kruea said he assumed that either storm winds or “human intervention” carried the bin across the ocean.  

“That’s in the top 10 things on the Oddities List that I’ve been keeping these last two-plus decades,” McGreal told the Times.

Trash cans are not the only ones itching to travel after nearly two years of pandemic-related restrictions. But as tourism enjoys a revival, the industries that make jet-setting possible are realizing they need to cut down their greenhouse gas emissions. We’ll take a look at this development, and then examine steps toward sustainability in the American meat industry.

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.

Travel industry aims to be net-zero by 2050

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), a trade association that represents more than 500 global firms in the travel sector, pledged to guide its members toward cutting carbon in a new Net Zero Roadmap — launched on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) on Tuesday. 

The Roadmap aims to help tourism and travel industries to decarbonize and reach net-zero by 2050, a news release from the WTTC said. While tourism has endured the impacts of climate change throughout the world, the sector is also responsible for about 8 to 10 percent of global emissions, the report found. 

First words: “The travel and tourism sector is taking this opportunity to be a catalyst for change,” Julia Simpson, president and CEO of the WTTC, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility towards our people and planet.”

A COP26 priority: Just last week, governments, destinations and businesses came together at COP26 to sign the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism — aiming to slash tourism-related emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050, as we reported.

That declaration, launched in partnership with the WTTC, commits signatory parties to deliver concrete action plans within 12 months of signing, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. 

Such action, the Glasgow Declaration leaders said, is particularly critical as the tourism sector begins to enjoy a fresh boost amid pandemic recovery. One official said at the signing sessions that he expected a gradual return to pre-pandemic travel levels by 2024 at the latest.

So what can travel and tourism businesses do? The WTTC’s Net Zero Roadmap is calling upon businesses to increase their emissions reductions ambitions by focusing on five general goals:

  1. Set baselines and emission targets to achieve individual and sector goals
  2. Monitor and report progress regularly
  3. Collaborate within and across industries and government
  4. Provide the investments required for the decarbonization transition
  5. Raise awareness and boost capabilities on climate change




Altria is working to create a more sustainable future — aligned with the expectations of society and our stakeholders. Learn about the goals we’ve set and the progress we’re making at Altria.com.


The Roadmap breaks down the travel and tourism sector into five specific industries, identifying individual progress made, challenges anticipated and tools that each of these industries can implement to achieve their ambitions.

The five industries:

  1. Accommodation: multinational hotel groups to small businesses with a single building
  2. Tour operators: those who compose and sell package tours
  3. Aviation: airlines only, including both low-cost and full-service carriers
  4. Cruises: passenger ships used for vacation
  5. Intermediaries: other related businesses, like online travel agencies and metasearch engines, which often distribute or resell travel products

Among these five industries, aviation emits the largest amount of carbon emissions, followed by accommodation and cruises, according to the Roadmap, which cites industry data from 2019. 

Account for direct, and indirect, emissions: The report notes, however, that this data excludes “Scope 3 emissions” — indirect emissions that occur in a business’s value chain, such as purchased goods or services.

Scope 3 emissions account for about 92 percent of tour operator emissions, while they only account for 20 percent of aviation emissions and 55 percent of accommodation emissions.

Call for government partnerships: While urging its member companies to work toward cutting emissions, the WTTC Roadmap also called upon world leaders to give the travel and tourism sector a similar level of support offered to other sectors. 

Travel and tourism, according to Simpson, has an opportunity to “be part of the change that is urgently required to mitigate impacts” of the climate crisis. 

Last words: “It is absolutely critical,” Simpson said, that the public and private sectors “work collectively to achieve the Paris Agreement and prevent the global rise in temperatures.”


Meat industry pledges to hit emissions targets

Members of the North American Meat Institute, which represents about 95 percent of the country’s meat producers, have committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with international climate targets by 2030, the association announced on Tuesday, as reported by The Hill.

To support its members in matching targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement — in which countries agreed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the Meat Institute said it will help companies establish individual emissions reduction goals.

How will companies be setting these goals? Their targets will be approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative, a partnership among the Carbon Disclosure Project, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature, which guides businesses in slashing emissions. 

This new push “will drive momentum and generate technical support for meat packers and processors of all sizes to establish independently approved science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said in a statement. 

Meat packer controversy: The Meat Institute came under fire about a year ago, following a ProPublica investigation potentially linking email communications from the association to a controversial executive order issued by former President Trump, who allowed meatpacking plants to remain open during the early stages of the pandemic.

At the time the executive order was issued in April 2020 the Meat Institute said that Trump’s decision would help “avert hardship” for producers and keep families fed, while prioritizing worker safety, The Hill reported.

Feed families, protect workers: Provisions to feed American families and protect meatpacking workers are both part of the Meat Institute’s new emissions reductions goals, launched alongside a broader sustainability framework that adheres to the Protein PACT for the People, Animals and Climate of Tomorrow.

The Protein PACT is a partnership of 12 leading U.S. agricultural groups that have pledged to take measurable action on global development, a news release from the association said.


How will the Meat Institute ensure that all members meet climate targets? The association said it will begin collecting data to establish transparent baselines and verify progress companies make toward establishing goals for animal care, food safety, labor, human rights, health and wellness. 

In 2022, companies representing 90 percent of meat produced by Meat Institute members will report data in the association’s sustainability framework, with all members doing so by 2030, the news release said. 

Third-party audits, USDA collaborations: By 2025, all members that handle animals will need to pass third-party audits for animal care, as well as require their suppliers to implement mandatory training, according to the association. The same year, the Meat Institute said it will begin working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Feeding America, to help fill the protein gap for families in need.  

Minimizing workplace injuries: Meat Institute members will also need to commit to reducing workplace injuries by 50 percent in comparison to a 2019 baseline, on top of an existing 75-percent reduction achieved from 1999-2019, the association said.

Last words: These actions, Potts said, will enable meat producers to provide “the leading source of safe, high-quality protein in Americans’ diets, sustaining healthy animals and a thriving workforce along the way.”



Altria is working to create a more sustainable future — aligned with the expectations of society and our stakeholders. Learn about the goals we’ve set and the progress we’re making at Altria.com.

Tech Tuesdays 

Building smaller, cheaper nuclear power plants; repurposing retired EV batteries; innovating sustainable cement. 

Jet engine producer Rolls-Royce to build smaller, cheaper nuclear plants in Britain

  • British jet engine producer Rolls-Royce is launching a new business to build a series of smaller, cheaper nuclear reactors as Great Britain seeks ways to slash emissions and reduce the expenses associated with nuclear energy, The New York Times reported.
  • The types of reactors Rolls-Royce hopes to build would be about the size of two soccer fields, or one-tenth of a conventional nuclear power station, according to the Times.
  • Rolls-Royce estimated that this will reduce construction costs to about £2 billion ($2.7 billion) each, as opposed to approximately £22.5 billion for England’s Hinkley Point nuclear power station, the Times reported.
  • The British government will be contributing a grant of £210 million to develop the plants, while Rolls-Royce and its partners, including BNF Resources and the American nuclear power company Exelon Generation, would together invest £195 million over three years, according to the Times.

Cornell researchers propose new solutions to make retired EV batteries more sustainable

  • As electric vehicles become increasingly popular around the world, Cornell University researchers have identified new ways to sustainably manage retired lithium-ion batteries, a news release from the university said. 
  • Their analysis, published in Science Advances, found that an EV battery’s overall carbon footprint can be decreased by up to 17 percent if it is repurposed before being recycled. For example, wind and solar energy power stations can use retired batteries even if they have reduced energy capacity, the researchers said.
  • Another option is to swap out cobalt — which is energy-intensive when mined and associated with exploitative child labor — with nickel, although this presents tradeoffs in terms of battery lifecycle, the researchers acknowledged.
  • Policymakers should also consider new ways to incentivize recycling techniques that optimize the sustainability of batteries, the study added.

German chemists develop method to reduce CO2 emission from cement production

  • Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany have developed a new method that they say could drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cement production, a news release from the university said.
  • While concrete is an inexpensive and versatile material, its production involves the calcination (heating solids at a high temperature) of lime, clay and other components — which allows the material to form stable calcium silicate hydrates, the product that makes cement materials so durable.
  • But for every molecule of calcinated lime produced, a molecule of carbon dioxide is released, meaning that the annual world production of 4.5 billion tons of cement leads to the release of 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to the researchers.
  • The German team was able to mill raw lime with solid sodium silicate, producing an intermediate that can react with a sodium hydroxide solution to form a product structurally similar to calcium silicate hydrates, the university said.
  • That process, the researchers explained, can occur at room temperature, while requiring only about 10 percent of the energy used in the calcination process.


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


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