“Ethical markets highly recommend this overview by our wise colleague Joel Makower, dissecting all the issues around promises of “Net Zero“. Must reading!
~Hazel Henderson, Editor“
Monday, May 10, 2021
Is ‘net zero’ much ado about nothing?
It feels almost quaint to remember way back when “80 by 50” — that is, an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 — was a bold goal for a company or government entity to make. It was seen by many as audacious, possibly unachievable, but still a necessary target.
The “way back when” in this case seems to be around 2014.
Ah, yes: The good old days.
Today, “80 by 50” would not pass muster. Net zero is the near-universal goal of nations, states, provinces, cities, companies, universities and others. And even that goal sometimes gets knocked as being too little, too late.
This week, as the full fleet of GreenBiz weekly newsletters focuses on the topic of net zero, I thought it might be helpful to start off with some simple questions that seem to encircle that goal. The five questions below represent just a sampling of issues surrounding what net zero means — and doesn’t. These questions and others will be central to our upcoming (and free) VERGE Net Zero conference in August.
First, what is net zero?
For those not yet up to speed, net zero refers to the goal of emitting no greenhouse gases by a specific date, typically 2050. However, Germany just committedto reaching this goal by 2045. Corporate signatories to the Climate Pledge have committed to net zero by 2040. IBM saidit would reach that milestone in 2030. The bar continues to move. Such commitments often are coupled with an interim goal of cutting emissions in half by, say, 2030.
Net zero can be achieved, first and foremost, by cutting or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and, secondarily, by offsetting any remaining emissions through such actions as planting trees, investing in renewable energy projects that replace fossil-fuel energy, or investing in novel carbon-removal technologies such as direct air capture.
The concept of net zero goes back nearly a decade, in the run-up to the 2015 COP21 climate conference in Paris. According to one telling, a group of women climate leaders met at a Scottish estate in 2013 to discuss bold climate goals that could be enacted two years later in Paris. After a heated debate, they agreed that the goal should be to pursue net zero by mid century. In the Paris Agreement that ultimately resulted, negotiators agreed “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.”
That is, to achieve net-zero emissions.
Is net zero the same as carbon neutral?
The terms are often used interchangeably, though there are subtle but critical differences. You can become carbon neutral simply by buying offsets — for a year’s worth of driving or air travel, for example. Net zero would require that you drive or fly as little as possible, offsetting only what’s unavoidable. The same principle holds for any other activity — for a company, building, factory, product, community or nation.
In some cases (as with ExxonMobil, for example), companies have committed to net-zero carbon intensity, a term that means that the amount of carbon per unit of measure does not increase, even as overall emissions may rise. Exxon has come under fire from activist investors for a stance that, critics say, disingenuously claims to be net zero but, in fact, will lead to an increase in overall emissions in the coming years.
Does net zero rely too much on offsets?
Companies are being increasingly criticized for investing more into offsets than into actual emissions reductions. That is, simply buying offsets in lieu of any emissions reductions is taboo. But, given that there is no universal standard about how much offsetting is the “right” amount, it’s an open field for organizations to claim pretty much whatever they want. But that could change. The Science Based Targets initiative is working on what it calls “the first global standard for net-zero business.”
Is net zero achievable with existing technologies?
Most experts believe we have the technologies, though some are not yet cost-competitive.
But many are. Cutting energy use — the first step in reducing emissions — relies on a sizable toolbelt of well-oiled energy-efficiency technologies with relatively fast returns on investment. The next steps are harder, however. Electrification — transforming cars, buildings, factories and other things to operate on electricity rather than, say, oil or natural gas — is a fast-emerging field. And affordable, enabling technologies — electric vehicles and grid battery storage, among them — are quickly coming to market.
Beyond that is carbon capture, a portfolio of technologies that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and store them securely for decades or centuries, including in products such asconcrete. And there are carbon-free fuels that show great promise, such as blue and green hydrogen, but that are still nascent and expensive.
Is net zero greenwash?
Some think so. Critics say that the overreliance on offsets and unproven technologies, combined with the roughly three-decade time horizon to achieve most net-zero goals, enable companies to continue business as usual for the foreseeable future while still maintaining a net-zero stance. As a result, as I noted a couple months back, net zero may be in for a backlash.
“Far from signifying climate ambition, the phrase ‘net zero’ is being used by a majority of polluting governments and corporations to evade responsibility, shift burdens, disguise climate inaction, and in some cases even to scale up fossil fuel extraction, burning and emissions,” according to the watchdog group Corporate Accountability, which published a report last fall on “How ‘net zero’ targets disguise climate inaction.”
“The term is used to greenwash business-as-usual or even business-more-than-usual,” it continued. “At the core of these pledges are small and distant targets that require no action for decades and promises of technologies that are unlikely ever to work at scale, and which are likely to cause huge harm if they come to pass.”
Activists, including investors, aren’t likely to accept any old net-zero commitment without holding it to intense scrutiny. For companies, that means the bar will likely rise over time.
The overriding question, at the end of all this, is how companies and others will lean into their net-zero commitments in the years ahead — whether they will be largely check-the-box activities or a truly disruptive force. Right now, the answer is up for grabs.
These are among the issues worth pondering, debating and embracing. And, indeed, they’ll be front and center at our upcoming Net Zero event.
Nothing less than our lives and future rest on the answers.
Taking care of business
Two great webcasts coming up:
- On May 18, I’ll be hosting a webcast featuring Interface, the flooring company, and real estate leaders on on how organizations can make actualized progress towards net-zero by reducing the carbon associated with the design and construction of their buildings. Register here.
- And on May 20, join SilviaTerra for a complimentary webcast on how corporate net-zero goals can drive impact beyond climate — from strengthening of rural communities to improving habitats for biodiversity. Register here.
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Apple’s AirPods Max fall to a new all-time low of $489 at Amazon
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With good looks, quality construction and great natural sound, Apple’s AirPods Max headphones tick all the right boxes, but they’re mighty expensive at $550. However, you can now pick up a pair from Amazon at $490, the lowest price we’ve seen yet. That’s still not inexpensive by any means, but it’s a substantial savings on high-end headphones that only came out seven months ago.
With an Engadget review score of 84, the AirPods Max earned a spot in our list of the best headphones you can buy. They look and feel great thanks to the aluminum and metal design, breathable mesh fabric and large earcups. A rotating crown and dedicated button let you switch between ANC and and regular modes, and it’s easy to switch seamlessly between iPhones, Macs and iPads. They offer hands-free capability with Siri, and you can go for up to 20 hours between charges with both ANC and spatial sound enabled.
AirPods Max offer a more natural sound experience than other headphones, with bass that’s not overcooked. Active noise cancellation quality is right up there, though not quite on par with Sony’s WH-1000XM4 ANC headphones. And they support Apple’s Dolby Atmos-powered spatial audio on iPhones, iPads and Macs right now, and will come to Apple TV this fall. The main drawback is that they won’t stream Apple’s new lossless audio.
Still, they deliver in nearly every other area and are especially useful for folks with Apple devices. $60 is a substantial discount for an Apple product this new, so if you’re interested, it would be best to act soon.
Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.
Visa to acquire open banking platform Tink for more than $2 billion
Visa has announced plans to acquire Tink for €1.8 billion, or $2.15 billion at today’s exchange rate. Tink has been a leading fintech startup in Europe focused on open banking application programming interface (API).
Today’s move comes a few months after Visa abandoned its acquisition of Plaid, another popular open banking startup. Originally, Visa planned to spend $5.3 billion to acquire the American startup. But the company had to call off the acquisition after running into a regulatory wall.
Tink offers a single API so that customers can connect to bank accounts from their own apps and services. For instance, you can leverage Tink’s API to access account statements, initiate payments, fetch banking information and refresh this data regularly.
While banks and financial institutions now all have to offer open banking interfaces due to EU’s Payment Services Directive PSD2, there’s no single standard. Tink integrates with 3,400 banks and financial institutions.
App developers can use the same API call to interact with bank accounts across various financial institutions. As you may have guessed, it greatly simplifies the adoption of open banking features.
300 banks and fintech startups use Tink’s API to access third-party bank information — clients include PayPal, BNP Paribas, American Express and Lydia. Overall, Tink covers 250 million bank customers across Europe.
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Tink operations should continue as usual after the acquisition. Visa plans to retain the brand and management team.
According to Crunchbase data, Tink has raised over $300 million from Dawn Capital, Eurazeo, HMI Capital, Insight Partners, PayPal Ventures, Creades, Heartcore Capital and others.
“For the past ten years we have worked relentlessly to build Tink into a leading open banking platform in Europe, and we are incredibly proud of what the whole team at Tink has created together,” Tink co-founder and CEO Daniel Kjellén said in a statement. “We have built something incredible and at the same time we have only scratched the surface.”
“Joining Visa, we will be able to move faster and reach further than ever before. Visa is the perfect partner for the next stage of Tink’s journey, and we are incredibly excited about what this will bring to our employees, customers and for the future of financial services.”
Taptap Send gets $13.4M for a no-fee money transfer service aimed at price-conscious emerging market users
Remittances — specifically when people in developed countries send money to family or friends in emerging markets — continues to be a huge lever to help those in more challenging economies survive and improve their lot. Today, a startup that has built a remittance platform that it believes is the most economically sympathetic and useful to the people who use those services the most is announcing some funding to continue growing.
Taptap Send, which provides a “free” mobile money transfer service from eight countries to 15 others, has raised $13.4 million, money that it will be using to continue expanding its scope and the services that it provides to its customers.
The 15 receiver countries include some of the poorest countries in the world that are the hardest to service, plus emerging markets with some of the poorest populations — DR Congo, Mali, and Madagascar among them — while the eight originator countries include some of the most common places to which people from these countries emigrate — United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, France and Italy among them.
The Series A was co-led by Canaan Partners and Reid Hoffman, with other unnamed investors also participating.
There is a reason that a lot of companies launch and build services in countries like the U.S. or regions like Western Europe: there is a lot of money there, and specifically consumers and businesses with the kind of income that allows them to invest in new technologies and simply to do more. Of course, that doesn’t mean that other, less wealthy demographics don’t exist, or don’t also need new technology; but building for them is usually less lucrative and more risky.
Taptap Send is among the startups that is trying to approach the promise of tech with this in mind, and with a view to bucking that trend. The company’s business model works by way of charging no commission or any other fees for transfers, instead making a cut on foreign exchange. It has built its whole tech stack from the ground up and says that this lets it pass on lower exchange rates to its customers, typically lower than others that might be serving the same markets. On top of this, there is an economy of scale principle at play here: having better rates will drive more users, which in turn might not mean better margins but a higher volume of transacting and more returns overall.
The startup is the third entrepreneurial outing for Michael Faye, a development economist who previously worked for the United Nations. Before Taptap Send, Fay founded GiveDirectly and Segovia. In each business, he’s tried to take the same approach: building financial technology to improve the lot of people living in emerging markets. GiveDirectly (still going strong) did this for philanthropic donations — it’s an NGO that sets up donation campaigns where individuals and big businesses can contribute, and people in receiving countries can directly get the funding via mobile money transfers. Segovia (acquired by Crown Agents Bank) did this for B2B use cases — it built a mobile-money-transfer-as-a-service, which other money transfer companies could use to power their businesses, by way of an API.
Taptap Send can be thought of as Faye’s hat trick in the space, taking the bigger concept of remittances used to help people, and building it as a C2C business: aimed at individuals who are sending people “back home” money to live on.
“Taptap Send is taking advantage of this structural change in mobile money and other distribution networks to offer what we hope is the fastest and best price service to customers,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.
Taken together, cross-border remittances is a massive market, worth some $540 billion annually when you consider the established channels, with more “informal” methods (which can be as analogue as passing money via a person making a trip from one country to the other) estimated to be of nearly the same size. They are also, in fact, more valuable even than foreign direct investment: the World Bank has tracked that remittances overtook the money donated by states in 2019.
Mobile technology has played a big part in that, making it easier both to send and receive money, but it’s also opened the door to a lot of potential exploitation by bad actors, preying on people who might use a service for convenience and not be fully clear on how the actual pricing breaks down.
For that reason, the UN has set a goal for remittance pricing and commissions to be no higher for any company than 3% of the total sent — one way to ensure that players focus more on volume and less on margins. Taptap send says that it’s the only company in the space that has publicly committed to that goal (it has yet to hit it, it seems).
The company is not yet disclosing many numbers on its size or customers served but Faye tells me business overall grew 5x in the last year, and is posting a gross profit. “Even with everything happening you did see this massive increase in digitization,” he said of Covid-19 and its impact on business. He’s also undeterred by the vast amounts of competition in the space, which includes not just companies like Western Union and Money Gram but lots and lots of smaller remittance startups like Remitly, World Remit, and many more without the word “remit” in their names. “It’s easy to look at remittance and say it’s crowded, but so was video conferencing before Zoom or social networking before Facebook,” he said.
This is also why investors are interested.
“The company has a nuanced, yet powerful strategy that Michael has put into place to allow [it] to be the lowest-cost provider in every market they enter. As the world rapidly shifts toward digital wallets and e-money, it creates an opportunity for remittance companies to create an even more magical experience by sending funds directly to those wallets,” noted Brendan Dickinson, a general partner at Canaan. “Taptap Send gives as much of cost savings as possible to the customer, and as a result, is almost always the cheapest player in the market. All of that makes it economically viable to send smaller remittances – and in doing so, expands the total market and volume of remittances sent. This approach is strongly resonating with customers, as Taptap Send’s massive growth has been 90+% organic.”
Andreessen Horowitz triples down on blockchain startups with massive $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III
While the cryptocurrency market’s most recent hype wave seems to be dying down after a spectacular rise, Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm is reaffirming its commitment to startups building blockchain projects with a hulking new $2.2 billion crypto fund.
It’s the firm’s largest vertical-specific fund ever — by quite a bit.
Andreessen Horowitz’s 2018 crypto fund ushered in $300 million of LP commitments and its second fund, which it closed in April of last year, clocked in at $515 million. The new multi-billion dollar fund not only showcases how institutional backers are growing more comfortable with cryptocurrencies, but also how Andreessen Horowitz’s assets under management have been quickly swelling to compete with other deep-pocketed firms including the ever-prolific Tiger Global.
With this announcement, Andreessen now has some $18.8 billion assets under management.
LPs are likely far less wary to take a chance on crypto after Andreessen Horowitz’s stake in Coinbase equated to some $11.2 billion at the time of the direct listing’s first trades, though the stock has slid back some 30% in recent months as the crypto market has shrunk.
Some of the firm’s other major crypto bets include NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs which hit a $7.5 billion valuation this spring. Blockchain infrastructure startup Dfinity raised at a $9.5 billion valuation this past September. Last year, the firm led the Series A of Uniswap, which is poised to be a major player in the Ethereum ecosystem. In addition to equity investments, a16z has also made major bets on the currencies themselves.
An earlier report from Newcomer last month reported a16z was targeting a $2 billion crypto fund and that they had already unloaded some of their crypto holdings before most cryptocurrencies took a major dive in recent weeks.
Crypto Fund III will continue to be managed by GPs Chris Dixon and Katie Haun, but the firm has also begun spinning out a more robust management team around the crypto vertical.
Anthony Albanese, who joined the firm last year from the NYSE, has been appointed COO of the division. Tomicah Tillemann, who previously served as a senior advisor to now-President Joe Biden and as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, will be a16z Crypto’s Global Head of Policy. Rachael Horwitz is also coming aboard as an Operating Partner leading marketing and communications for a16z crypto; leaving Google after a stint as Coinbase’s first VP of Communications as well.
A couple other folks are also coming on in advisory capacity, including entrepreneur Alex Price and a couple others who will likely be a tad helpful in regulatory maneuverings including Bill Hinman, formerly of the SEC, and Brent McIntosh, who recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.
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