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The Pandemic Is Still Raging. Here’s What Works To Contain It : Shots

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The Pandemic Is Still Raging. Here's What Works To Contain It : Shots

 

A sign warns against the Covid-19 virus near the Navajo town of Tuba City, Arizona. As the virus rages across the U.S., mitigation measures continue to be critical to save lives.

 

MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

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A sign warns against the Covid-19 virus near the Navajo town of Tuba City, Arizona. As the virus rages across the U.S., mitigation measures continue to be critical to save lives.

 

MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

 

While the country’s attention is fixed on the rollout of the vaccine and the arrival of a new administration, the coronavirus pandemic rages on. In many parts of the U.S., case counts and deaths are still sky-high. And new variants of the virus are worrying scientists and prompting new restrictions across the globe.

Despite widespread COVID fatigue, public health experts say practicing mitigation strategies is as crucial as ever to save lives. But which strategies have proven most effective?

There is still wide variation in what local and state governments are willing and able to enforce. Should masks be mandated or only encouraged? Should indoor dining be limited or halted? Different places have taken widely different approaches, and this patchwork approach has meant outbreaks keep flaring up again and again.

We know what works to slow the spread, says Dr. Ashish Jha, public health policy researcher and dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. That is, find ways to prevent people from gathering unmasked in indoor spaces for extended periods of time.

But that’s been easier said than done in a country that has struggled to balance protecting public health while reopening economic activity.

“Some states have done it, other states have not, and we’ve seen pretty substantial differences in disease spread across states,” Jha says.

Public health experts also note that many of the issues that have hampered states’ pandemic response are playing a role in the country’s complex and slow-moving vaccine distribution process.

And, they say, vaccines are only part of the solution — state and federal leaders can still take other actions to help save lives.

“If we really cared about people we wouldn’t be waiting for a vaccine,” says Dr. Camara Jones, an epidemiologist and past president of the American Public Health Association. “If we really cared about people, the government would do everything in its power to keep people safe right now.”

Nearly a year into the pandemic, NPR asked public health experts to reflect on what works — and what doesn’t — to control outbreaks. Here’s what they say is essential for getting through the current public health crisis — and preparing for the next one.

Act, and act quickly

Experts agree that when it comes to state actions to slow infections, timing is key.

“Every minute, every day counts,” says Dr. Sen Pei, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Pei co-authored a study that looked at social distancing and other contact-reduction measures across the U.S. between mid-March and early May. It found that introducing the same level of restrictions just one week earlier could have prevented more than 600,000 confirmed cases and 32,000 deaths, with a two-week difference growing those numbers even more.

A two- or three-day delay can double the number of cases during the exponential growth phase of an outbreak, Pei explains.

“It’s really necessary to bring down the prevalence in the population to actually control the spreading of the coronavirus,” he says. “That’s why, initially, you need to take decisive and kind of harsh measures.”

Choose smart, targeted restrictions

As communities reopen, Pei says, they should be quick to respond to subsequent surges by reimposing limits on businesses and activities. The longer they wait, the higher the cost, he added.

A sign reminds people to wear face masks at an empty Grand Central Market in November in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles has urged citizens to stay home since early December to slow its outbreak. Stay-home orders can help control a coronavirus surge.

 

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A sign reminds people to wear face masks at an empty Grand Central Market in November in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles has urged citizens to stay home since early December to slow its outbreak. Stay-home orders can help control a coronavirus surge.

 

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

 

Policy decisions drive numbers, says Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“A fundamental rule is if you do nothing, you will see a rise in cases followed by a rise in hospitalizations followed by a rise in deaths,” Nuzzo says.

At this stage in the pandemic, communities don’t necessarily all need sweeping stay-at-home orders or sector closures, Nuzzo says. Contact tracing can shed light on where cases are coming from and that can help states and localities respond with targeted interventions rather than locking everything down.

“I don’t think that blunt instrument is a good strategy unless you are in truly dire straits,” Dr. Paul Carson, a professor of practice of management of infectious diseases at North Dakota State University, told NPR over email. “We look at the various measures as sort of a thermostat that you dial up or dial down as need demands.”

For example, states can selectively cancel large indoor gatherings or reduce the number of people allowed inside restaurants and bars, Pei says. And Nuzzo encourages authorities to think not just about opening or closing places but about how to make them safer, such as through masking and ventilation.

Ideally, Nuzzo says, states would shut things down when facing a serious surge and use that time to develop a targeted strategy for when cases rise again.

“What happens is we just open and shut, and then we kind of do this halfhearted attempt at contact tracing when we open, so of course the case numbers are going to come back,” Nuzzo says. “There’s nothing magic about these shutdowns. These are pause buttons, but if you hit play and you don’t follow it with anything, it’s going to have another resurgence.”

Amp up federal support to ensure local efforts succeed

Increased federal funding is key to empowering states’ pandemic response, says Jha.

“The biggest thing that has hindered almost every state from acting is the economic costs of putting in restrictions,” he says. “The way out of this is for Congress to provide some relief to workers and small businesses.” he says.

He adds that for many governors, mandating certain public health best practices can be “very politically painful.”

President Joe Biden released his pandemic response plan shortly after taking office.

 

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MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

 

President Joe Biden released his pandemic response plan shortly after taking office.

 

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

 

Federal relief from the CARES Act made it relatively easier for states to respond aggressively in April and May, Jha explains.

After months of back-and-forth, Congress passed a second COVID-19 relief bill at the end of December, with provisions including $600 relief checks for many individuals, aid to small businesses and money for vaccine distribution.

And President Biden has unveiled a relief proposal asking for $1.9 trillion in spending. His proposals include raising the federal minimum wage as well as providing billions of dollars for child care assistance, federal nutrition programs, rental assistance and funding for state, local and tribal governments.

Dr. Jody Heymann, director of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s WORLD Policy GFN Center, says the U.S. lacks measures that most other United Nations countries have: national paid sick leave, adequate unemployment insurance and income for those who lose work during shutdowns.

“With strong and effective federal action … states can act more rapidly and decisively without the trade-off being such a high toll,” Heymann says.

Heymann says she is confident that people would be more likely to follow health recommendations, such as staying home when exposed to the coronavirus, if such protections existed.

Jones, the former American Public Health Association president, says support such as eviction protections and financial assistance to states and localities would all help, and also signal that leaders are taking the pandemic seriously.

“If the government paid people to stay at home [when they’re sick or exposed], if we protected the people who had to be at work, then we would have no huge forest fire of an infection in this country,” Jones says.

Coordinate the national response on key issues

While experts say states and localities should tailor their response to the conditions on the ground, they agree that a coordinated response and certain federal measures are needed. Key among those are a federal plan for vaccine distribution and a national approach to mask-wearing.

Heymann says that while local and state mask mandates are better than nothing, wants to see a national policy on masks, given the amount of travel across borders. Heymann, like many of the experts interviewed for this story, noted with concern that masks have become politicized, but expressed optimism about conditions improving under the Biden administration.

Two of Biden’s first acts as president were signing executive orders mandating masks on federal property and for interstate travel. And his plans for his first 100 days in office include asking all Americans to wear masks for that time.

Nuzzo points to New York City as an example of the fact that without a nationwide approach to COVID-19 precautions, even places that had been doing relatively well can flare up when the virus rages elsewhere.

States have increasingly implemented their own travel requirements and recommendations, which are inconsistent across the country and hard to enforce. Nuzzo says this makes screening and education measures, like telling travelers where they can get tested, all the more important.

“If you could wall off New York City from the rest of the world, and you wouldn’t let anybody come in with the virus — like New Zealand has been able to do because it’s an island — I think that would have an important impact,” she says. “But I just don’t think it’s practically feasible in the United States.”

Be consistent in public health communication

How can states get more people to take public health precautions? The answer, or a large part of it, lies in better communication.

“One of the first tenants of a crisis is being transparent and having consistent messaging, and we failed at that over and over again,” says Ranney, the emergency medicine physician and Brown University professor.

She runs through a list of examples, including: conflicting messages that created confusion; messages that eroded trust in public health by downplaying the threat of the virus, playing up nonexistent cures or injecting partisan politics into science; responses that failed to take into account the structural racism, economic inequality and urban-rural divisions exacerbated by the pandemic.

Even some scientists, she says, initially fell short of “creating coherent messaging that both acknowledged the uncertainty of the moment and that enabled people to do the best they could to keep themselves and their families safe.”

Dr. Rita Burke, a professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, says communication around COVID-19 has been especially challenging because the response comes from multiple agencies.

She stresses the need for one coherent message across the board, and being clear with the public about the science guiding the restrictions.

Replace “personal responsibility” with support for behavior change

Measures like in-home gathering limits and social distancing requirements only work if people actually follow them — and laws do not always lead to changed behaviors.

Students arriving at New York University last fall were required to get tested for the virus upon arrival, and then have to be tested again seven to 10 days later. Experts say community leaders could learn a lesson from how campuses have handled the pandemic.

 

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Students arriving at New York University last fall were required to get tested for the virus upon arrival, and then have to be tested again seven to 10 days later. Experts say community leaders could learn a lesson from how campuses have handled the pandemic.

 

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

 

Dr. Patrick Remington, a former CDC epidemiologist and professor emeritus in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, says a career spent studying public health policy has taught him that laws are typically only effective for the people already inclined to follow a given health recommendation, like wearing seat belts in cars or not smoking indoors.

What really drives behavior, he says, is culture.

And for people whose livelihoods, paychecks and homes are on the line, he says, the cost of certain public health measures may understandably be just too high.

Nuzzo says it’s not enough just to tell people they can’t do something — they need to provide alternatives.

In California, for example, evidence shows a shutdown of bars prompted a rise in house parties. Like a game of whack-a-mole, Nuzzo says, authorities can’t get ahead of the virus without giving people the tools to “maintain some level of normalcy in their lives but to do so more safely.”

“So much of their strategy is relying on personal responsibility, and I think that’s ultimately a flawed strategy because not all of us can comply at the same level even if we wanted to,” Nuzzo says. “But let’s assume there are some who can, and aren’t. How you talk about it, I think, is important for reaching those people.”

Ranney says leaders can learn a lesson from how many colleges handled their fall semester.

After seeing outbreaks in the early weeks of the semester, many turned to what she called the “basics of behavior change theory” to motivate their students to do better.

That means setting norms — in this case, reminding them their community expects a certain kind of behavior — and making it easy to do the right thing, such as by making masks readily available. It also means recognizing peoples’ motivations and making sure their basic needs are met, for instance by providing support for testing and isolation.

She says all this requires carrots as well as sticks. And while society at large is not a campus, she believes these principles hold.

Of course people get fatigued, she says: “You have to recognize that people are going to prioritize getting food on their table and keeping a roof over their heads over following some kind of theoretical public health measure.” But then you find ways “to remind them when they’re not doing the right thing, and kind of nudge them back,” she says.

Make public health responses inclusive

The disproportionate harm the pandemic has inflicted on communities of color has become normalized as the months unfold, Jones says. It’s vital to make sure public health responses and messaging are inclusive.

“People of color are more likely to get infected because we’re more exposed and less protected, and then once infected we’re more likely to die because we’re more burdened by chronic diseases … with less access to health care,” Jones says. “All four of those things are deeply rooted in racism.”

The challenges that people face, and risk calculations they make, vary widely, Ranney says

“When we forget to pay attention to the fact … that different people are going to have different needs both in terms of care delivery and in terms of trustworthy messaging, we fail,” says Ranney.

Jones adds that the vaccine rollout and messaging should also prioritize vulnerable populations — including communities of color — who are more likely to be exposed where they live and work.

For example, she suggests broadening the category of long-term care residents to include people who are incarcerated and those who live on highly-isolated reservations or in high-prevalence communities.

And, when it comes to actually choosing to get vaccinated, Jones says it’s important to recognize the reasons why people might hesitate, like scientific questions or the history of racism in medicine. The goal should be not to try to convince, she says, but to inform people about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines.

Speed the vaccine rollout with more federal coordination and funding

The same challenges that have hampered the country’s pandemic response are also playing out in its sluggish vaccine rollout.

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. The vaccine campaign needs further federal support, experts say, to speed the effort.

 

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Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. The vaccine campaign needs further federal support, experts say, to speed the effort.

 

Pool/Getty Images

 

“It’s the cheesy old leadership maxim of a failure to plan is a plan to fail, and we failed to plan and we’re failing to get vaccines in arms,” Ranney says. She notes that each state has its own plan, none are adequately funded and vaccine prioritization varies even between hospitals.

As a result, she notes, the public is confused about eligibility and may feel that “vaccines are going to the rich and powerful instead of to those who are most at risk.”

The need to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible is all the more pressing, Ranney says, because of the more transmissible coronavirus variant, which was first discovered in the U.K. and has made its way to the U.S.

There is already urgency, she notes, with around 3,000 U.S. deaths a day and extremely high rates of new infections. But this new variant poses an even greater risk to health care systems, schools and the economy.

She says the virus will continue to mutate, and the longer it takes to get the public vaccinated, the greater the risk of another, more lethal mutation emerging.

“The only protection that we have right now are two things: One is physical distancing and mask wearing, which we are not doing a good job of, and the other is the vaccine,” Ranney says.

Ranney says the solution lies in more money to support efforts like hiring and setting up vaccination clinics, as well as a more flexible approach to distribution in which states aren’t so worried about vaccinating everyone in the first subgroup before starting to address the second.

President Biden’s plan to jump-start the vaccination campaign — including by distributing 100 million doses in his first 100 days — incorporatessome of these elements. It also requires a substantial amount of federal funding.

Prepare now for the next public health emergency

A lack of investment in public health limited the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic from the very beginning, experts say. It’s not too late to boost our efforts in the short-term and to start investing in the future so we’re never caught as unprepared again.

The pandemic is forcing the health care and public health communities to organize and mobilize outreach, with testing, contact tracing and vaccination campaigns. Experts say further investments in such efforts will help the country manage future health crises.

 

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The pandemic is forcing the health care and public health communities to organize and mobilize outreach, with testing, contact tracing and vaccination campaigns. Experts say further investments in such efforts will help the country manage future health crises.

 

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

 

“You cannot wait until there’s a problem to invest in science and public health,” says Ranney. “What we saw during this pandemic was everybody scrambling to set up communication, to set up data systems, to set up supply chains, and these things can’t be set up effectively overnight.”

On the other hand, she says, the U.S. has seen success in areas that receive longer-term funding and commitment, like scientific research.

“We have vaccines in less than a year not because of some miracle of science but because of a decade-plus of research into mRNA,” Ranney says. “Science and public health work, but it can’t be created out of thin air.”

Countries that have developed a strong COVID-19 response all have strong digital infrastructures for monitoring and detecting the early spread of disease in order to implement preventive measures, Ranney says, in contrast to the U.S. where certain places still rely on faxes and paper tracking of test results and contact tracing.

Experts say the country needs to reinvest in public health by increasing budgets and promoting science.

Many public health departments were underfunded and understaffed even before the pandemic hit, leaving them ill-equipped to carry out operations like contact tracing, Nuzzo says. That’s why having resources in place is so crucial, she says.

“We don’t shut down fire houses just because there hasn’t been a fire in a community for a year,” Nuzzo says. “And[it’s]the same thing for public health.”

Ranney notes that a number of public health officials have quit during the pandemic after being the target of vitriol. State and national leaders set local and state health departments up to fail when they don’t take scientific evidence seriously, she argues.

The next few months will see a ramping up of public health infrastructure if Biden’s COVID-19 relief plans become a reality. Key elements of his administration’s strategy include creating more large-scale vaccination sites, hiring 100,000 new community health workers and launching a major public education campaign.

But while the pandemic may be the country’s most pressing public health problem, it’s not the only one.

“I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that there are other coexisting epidemics in this country that are worsening during COVID-19,” Ranney says, pointing to issues like opioid abuse and preventable chronic diseases.

A lot of the infrastructure required to meet the needs of the pandemic — systems set up to help with vaccine rollout and increased funding for public health departments — can be repurposed to deal with these other issues, Ranney points out.

Nuzzo says once the country is no longer reacting to the pandemic, it should take stock of its experience in order to better prepare for the next inevitable public health emergency.

“This is not going to be the last situation we go through, it may not even be the worst,” she says. “We absolutely need to make sure we have the resources to act when and if the next thing happens, and keep them in place.”

Fashion

Fashion’s Sustainability Landscape: Who’s Investing in What?

Emily walpole

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Aeon Elliott models a gown for a fashion shoot while standing on the Edge, an outdoor observation deck overlooking Manhattan, March 2, 2021 in New York. After the virus descended on New York, the only sounds in the streets were wailing ambulance sirens. A year after the pandemic began, the nation's largest metropolis -- with a lifeblood based on round-the-clock hustle and bustle, push and pull -- is adapting and showing new life. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Business as usual has come and gone, as far as sustainability advocates are concerned.

More companies are investing in sustainability and making it a broader business priority.

“In the past year, we have seen accelerated investment into the circular economy, which transitions us away from our current take, make, waste linear economy to one in which materials are shared, reused and continuously cycled,” said Kate Daly, managing director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “Brands and retailers are evaluating their business holistically through the lens of environmental, social and [corporate] governance factors, growing their investments in new materials, researching circular solutions and testing and piloting new business models like reusable packaging systems in store.”

Across the top value-creating companies analyzed by WWD, reuse was one area that saw significant investment across the board. Companies evaluated included Nike, Inditex, LVMH, TJX Companies, Kering, Hermès, Fast Retailing, Adidas, Ross, VF Corp., Pandora, Richemont, Anta Sports, Next, L Brands, HLA, H&M, Lululemon, Hanes and Burberry by economic value creation in McKinsey & Co.’s Global Fashion Index for 2018 (adjusted for 2021 due to financial fallout of the pandemic).

fashion, sustainability, retail, circularity, resale, apparel

An GFN of the sustainability investments being made, across the top value-creating companies in fashion.
WWD

Reuse — Easiest to Implement

The majority, or 70 percent, of McKinsey & Co.’s top 20 companies by value outlined a reuse program (like Ross’ reuse-a-hanger or Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe) in their annual sustainability reports, perhaps because of ease of entry and low spend.

Since launching in 1993, Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program has repurposed 30 million shoes, touting the title as one of the oldest reuse and take-back programs.

Recent efforts from VF-owned The North Face speak to the consumer-facing engagement of these programs. With a warranty program that is 50 years old, the average life of a North Face product is a little over seven years. When it comes to new metrics for reuse, “[The industry] is still trying to figure out how to measure e-commerce programs, end-of-life — we’re actually still trying to work on that,” said Carol Shu, global senior manager of sustainability at The North Face.

The Move on Materials

Stan Smiths, Adidas, footwear, sustainability, leather

Select Stan Smiths are being reimagined in a bio-based leather for spring and summer 2021.
Courtesy

After reuse, more than half of the companies showed beginner moves to more innovative materials that help shift away from plastic over reliance and virgin materials. Efforts are evaluated by not solely a public commitment to increase the use of recycled material content but also the use of innovative plant-based dyes and material alternatives, innovation funding competitions and strategic alliances with biotechnology companies.

Last week, Adidas announced its Stan Smiths are the first footwear silhouette to take on Mylo mushroom-derived “leather” at scale. The shoe is slated for limited release later this year with the aim to scale up access to Stan Smith Mylos and integrate the material into other Adidas products and franchises (materials like Mylo are not biodegradable at present). A month prior, Stella McCartney (teaming with biotech company Bolt Threads) and Hermès (teaming with biotech company MycoWorks) similarly trialed new materials to positive public response.

Becoming akin to brand champions for new materials, the only kicker is the Stan Smith Mylo isn’t available yet, neither is the Hermès bag, and McCartney’s bustier and trousers are not for sale — as is the case with many innovative concept launches; Look, don’t touch.

That being said, progress is still being made in the move away from the virgin plastic-based norm, according to industry fiber benchmarks like Textile Exchange — it just isn’t happening at the pace or scale needed.

Polyester’s dominance alone captured 52 percent of the 111 million metric tons of fiber produced in 2019, far overshadowing the plant-based fibers of ancient origins (jute, linen and hemp) taking up 6 percent of the market share of natural protein fibers (silk, wool) each holding 1 percent of the market.

The latest material innovations wouldn’t even track on an industry benchmark at their current scale, so what is driving interest in the new materials?

“Quality is what drives adoption and ultimately impact,” said MycoWorks chief executive officer Matt Scullin. MycoWorks recently closed a $45 million Series B financing deal and worked with Hermès on its latest collaboration. “Brands and consumers are not going to sacrifice performance for sustainability. Leather is fundamentally a performance material. It’s highly durable. It has a sensuality. It evokes emotion that other materials do not. Our approach with Fine Mycelium materials has been to put performance first.”

The company is one of many seeking to edge out competition as veganism and concerns surrounding plastic-based materials continue to rise.

Recycling Gaps

Half of the companies — LVMH, TJX, Kering, Fast Retailing and H&M among them — are making investments in recycling infrastructure — akin to H&M’s Rube Goldberg-like garment-to-garment recycling machine and investments in chemical recycler Re:Newcell.

Amid some isolated efforts, investments in recovery infrastructure and incentives to enable recapture of material after use are lagging.

Speaking to the plastic crisis specifically, Daly suggests collections made with recycled polyester may be a red herring over larger-scale infrastructural investments. “At our current rate, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year, in addition to the 150 million metric tons currently circulating in marine environments. We need greater investment in recovery infrastructure to help close the supply-and-demand gap for plastics and protect the environment. To effectively do so, alongside upstream innovations to stop waste from the outset, a suite of solutions downstream is necessary — from mechanical recycling to advanced recycling technologies that can break down our most difficult-to-recycle plastics and transform them into high-quality raw materials that can be funneled back into the system,” she said.

Plastics aside, industry-led initiatives like Accelerating Circularity are one of many aiming to tackle fashion’s infrastructure and supply streams to curb waste.

Few Have Jumped All-In on Resale

ThredUp claims to be the biggest apparel resale site.

ThredUp claims to be the biggest apparel resale site.
Courtesy Photo

Despite reporting the strongest growth amid the pandemic, resale trailed all of the circular investments, at just 30 percent designating funds and efforts to it.

None of the players entering the resale space — VF Corp., H&M (majority stake in resale platform Sellpy), Kering (led a $216 million funding round in French luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective in March), Richemont (Watchfinder, Yoox Net-a-porter Group), Burberry (a recent partner to The RealReal) or as of this week, Lululemon (a re-commerce program with Trove) — have demonstrated a decoupling from volume-based growth.

“Circularity is at such a nascent stage…investment is relatively small in a vacuum. One shoe does not circular make a company,” said Michelle Gabriel, an educator at Glasgow Caledonian University in New York. “We’re not seeing the changes we want to see with circularity because one, it can’t solve our problems and two because it’s [a negligible amount] of the operation of these companies.”

Gabriel finds investments to be a drop in the bucket, infrastructure lacking and labor infringements or lived experiences to be more telling of sustainability progress with reports from labor groups being a key reference.

Pandemic Fallout With Suppliers, A ‘North Star’

coronavirus, pandemic, retail, fashion, labor

An GFN of the labor infringements seen by the top value-generating companies in the apparel space.
WWD

Humanity has equal footing in the sustainability conversation.

Investments in human rights due diligence can take the form of published supplier lists (past tier-1), supply chain technologies that aid transparency, third-party auditing and membership in responsible business initiatives or sensibly — living wages.

With the harsh blow dealt to the apparel industry by the pandemic, incidents of wage theft and unmet supplier commitments upstream can be a more human pulse of industry sustainability.

“When we keep the social components as the North Star, we will inherently embed the other things…I am excited about the conversations that are taking place around inclusion and diversity and what a safe industry looks like,” said Gabriel emphasizing the impact to the 75 million people — mostly young women of color — making our clothes today. Gabriel is engaging in an ongoing research project to collect the lived experiences of individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color or LGBTQIA+ within fashion.

Using data available from labor organizations like the Worker Rights Consortium and Remake, some companies (30 percent) that publicly resolved payments to suppliers on canceled or delayed orders at the start of the pandemic were later buyers implicated in severance theft in an April report titled “Fired, Then Robbed” from the WRC. Although the companies paid out in the #PayUp campaign, Nike, Inditex, Next, Fast Retailing, Adidas and H&M were among those buyers implicated in severance cases, as by WRC reports.

Kering, VF and Lululemon remain in the clear for resolved COVID-19-related payments to suppliers. Other companies remain unaccounted for in the pandemic supplier fallout, with public visibility into supply chains lacking.

Going forward, labor rights advocates and watchdogs believe full public transparency will be the ultimate testament to industry-wide progress.

Climate, Chemicals, Biodiversity Reporting Getting There

Across the board, reporting on sustainability efforts has come a long way and fast at that within the past year especially with the rising interest in Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance metrics.

Where applicable, 45 percent of the analyzed companies have set or “committed” to setting science-based targets according to the Science Based Targets Initiative; 65 percent have achieved certification with chemical management programs (including Bluesign or Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals; and 40 percent have invested in some sort of regenerative agriculture project or “restoration” as per sustainability reports.

Some companies are going a step further to disclose material risks to investors.

Standards like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board Standards identify the subset of environmental, social and governance issues most relevant to financial performance in each of 77 industries. The standards are developed based on feedback from companies, investors and other market participants “as part of a transparent, publicly documented process,” according to the website.

A handful of companies Nike, VF Corp., Pandora and Hanesbrands report by SASB Standards to communicate financially material sustainability information to investors to make bleeding externalities not typically accounted for in apparel, more visible.

When probed on whether companies, across the industry, are indeed holistically re-evaluating their sustainability strategies, Gabriel said: “Maybe not but I think they’re realizing they can’t afford not to.”

For More, See:

Just a Mere $20B to $30B a Year to Transform the Industry, According to Report

What 2020 Taught Fashion About Sustainability and Where to Go From Here

What Comes After Single-Use Retail Bags?

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Business

ESG Strategies for Small Business and Private Companies | JD Supra

becker blake

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ESG Strategies for Small Business and Private Companies | JD Supra

As a violinist, I was interested to learn that Irish violinist Patricia Treacy performed at President Biden’s inaugural mass held at 7:30 AM on Inauguration Day at a Washington cathedral. For the occasion, Ms. Treacy performed on a Stradivari violin worth around $4 million.

This Stradivari wasn’t made by the famous 17th century Cremonese luthier Antonio Stradivari whose instruments have become the gold standard for violin makers ever since. Instead, the violin Ms. Treacy played was made by Antonio’s son, Omobono Stradivari.

Omobono likely was primarily assigned repair work in Antonio’s shop. Compared to Antonio, few surviving violins are attributed to Omobono, and those are considered “clumsy” compared to his father’s work. And there is speculation that Omobono’s business interests primarily laid outside violin making.

Omobono might not have kept up with the productivity or workmanship of his illustrious father. But his instruments still reflect considerable artistry compared to other makers of his day and are not to be overlooked.

The same comparison might be made of large, publicly-traded corporations and their small, privately-held business counterparts. Although the former may generate more news reports and generate more revenue and government regulation, privately-held businesses far outstrip public companies in number. And small business is the backbone of many local communities.

On March 4, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was creating a Climate and ESG Task Force to focus on disclosure and ESG-related misconduct. Although the SEC’s focus likely primarily will be on disclosures by reporting companies and ESG funds, small businesses and privately-held companies also can create a significant impact with ESG programs.

This article provides a basic primer on ESG principles and discusses how small businesses and privately-held companies can positively affect their communities and stakeholders with ESG initiatives.

What is ESG?

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) focuses on a company’s efforts in those three areas. ESG is used by investors when considering where to invest. ESG also should be a factor in developing a company’s policies and products.

ESG requires a holistic evaluation of the business to determine how it serves its stakeholders inside and outside of the company and the environment where it has influence. The relative focus on environment, social, and governance will vary by company.

Focus on environmental should include the company’s use of natural resources, conservation efforts, and recycling and sustainability. Companies also may evaluate their carbon footprint and energy use. If the business involves the use of chemicals, the company might determine if there is a more environmentally friendly option.

Social issues require evaluation of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts from the boardroom to entry-level employees. Wellness programs and work environment must be evaluated to assure that employees are treated fairly and can work safely and without harassment. Companies also should consider their opportunities for social impact to make the world a better, safer, and more just place where all people can thrive.

Governance focuses on a company’s leadership and how it guides the company to have a positive impact. Governance also will include evaluating the board, executive, and management composition for diversity and inclusion. It also focuses on equity in compensation, transparency with investors and other stakeholders, and integrity.

Why is ESG Important?

Not only is it important that companies use their resources to make the world a better place, but ESG also is good business. For example, conserving energy, using renewable energy, and recycling can reduce costs and help the environment. Creating a diverse workforce where employees are valued and treated fairly will attract top talent, improve morale, and reduce turnover.

Millennial job hunters, consumers, and investors value ESG and may bypass a company that doesn’t. And Gen Z, which are entering adulthood, is the most diverse generation ever, with only 52%. For Gen Z, addressing climate change, equity, and social justice aren’t optional for Gen Z. With Millennials and Gen Z becoming important stakeholders, companies that ignore ESG initiatives aren’t likely to survive.

Eight of the top ten global risks to business identified by the World Economic Form are ESG-related. Further, according to McKinsey & Company, ESG can improve the bottom line. ESG can lead a company to new markets and business opportunities since consumers may seek companies dedicated to ESG.

Conservation efforts can lead to significant cost savings, for instance, in energy costs. And creating an ESG program can help a company futureproof its operations by anticipating changes (eg, carbon credits, bans on plastic bags, etc.).

Finally, employees who are treated well and enjoy a workplace free of discrimination and harassment are likely to be more productive and less likely to leave their jobs. And employees who are treated fairly are less likely to leave their jobs or file regulatory complaints.

Why Should Small Businesses and Privately-Held Companies Care about ESG?

In March, Acting SEC Chair Allison Herren Lee spoke about the SEC’s enhanced focus on ESG, which she said was driven by a “shift in investor focus.” She noted that “ESG risks and metrics now underpin many traditional investment analyses on investments of all types–a dynamic sometimes referred to as ‘ESG integration.’”

According to Lee, the “perceived barrier between social value and market value is breaking down. This change is driven by investors, lenders, asset managers, and ultimately consumers, making it an essential consideration for every business, whether or not under SEC regulation.

Further, the SEC now has set the expectation that reporting companies accurately disclose ESG information and programs. Investors and other stakeholders naturally will come to expect similar information from private businesses. Indeed, Lee Gardella, head of Investment Risk and Monitoring at private equity asset manager Schroder Adveq believes “private markets are a better place for an investor to apply their sustainable goals than the public markets.

The Process of Developing an ESG Strategy

The first step in developing an ESG program is self-reflection. Every business needs to ask difficult questions such as:

  • Is there diverse leadership and employees at every level in the company? What effort is the business making to recruit a diverse workforce?

  • Is the work environment free from discrimination and harassment? What does the company do to foster employees’ mental and physical health? Do employees receive a fair, living wage?

  • How does the company use natural resources? Does it use renewable energy sources and conserve water? What is the company’s carbon footprint? Does the company recycle and purchase recycled goods where possible? How do the company’s operations impact the land, water, and plant and animal life?

  • Do leadership and management deal fairly and transparently with stakeholders, including employees, customers, vendors, and investors?

  • What governmental regulation is the business subject to? Is the business in compliance with equal opportunity, wage hour, environmental, and ethical requirements?

After a business identifies its ESG successes and areas for improvement, it should develop strategies to address areas needing improvement. That ESG strategy should be integrated into the business’ culture and operations.

Key Elements of an ESG Strategy

Although contents of a business’ ESG strategy will depend upon its industry and the business’ unique circumstances, every ESG strategy should include these considerations:

360-Degree Engagement

A successful ESG strategy will involve all of a business’ stakeholders, including the board, executives, staff, investors, and consumers. The board may adopt the ESG strategy, but only after seeking information from other stakeholders. In addition to involving management and employees, a business may also seek customer or investor input through surveys.

Address All Three ESG Components

Balance is essential in business and in ESG strategies. An effective ESG strategy will not emphasize one or two of the areas to the neglect or exclusion of the other(s).

Many businesses may find it easier to have a strategy for one or two of the three ESG components (environmental, social, governance) than the others. Frequently the area where the business finds it most challenging to develop a strategy will be the one where the business needs to place the most focus.

For example, a business whose C-suite and board comprised of white men may find it difficult to attract women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons. Or the company may be in an industry where such individuals are underrepresented. Yet, a strong diversity program might be the best way for the business to demonstrate its commitment to ESG. A diversity initiative also may help futureproof the business by bringing new ideas and opportunities to the table.

Or on the social side, it may be difficult for a business to obtain management or owner approval for initiatives that increase employee or worker safety costs above minimum required levels at the expense of owner profit. Yet, in the long run, a happy and healthy workforce may lead to improved financial results.

Top to Bottom Education and Commitment

360-degree engagement doesn’t end when the ESG strategy is developed. Instead, all business personnel, from the board chair to the entry-level employee who started yesterday, needs to be educated about and engaged in carrying out the business’ ESG strategy.

Board, management, and staff must be educated about and committed to the business’ ESG strategy. And ESG should become a consideration in every business decision.

Asset Allocation

The book of Matthew in the Christian Bible says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” As with a person, a business’ “treasure” might not refer just to money but also time and focus.

The business that adopts a strong ESG strategy but continues to place the lion’s share of its funds or employee time on practices that undermine that strategy isn’t likely to succeed. The business’ allocation of time and money and choices for community involvement should support its ESG strategy.

Disclosure and Marketing

Usually, it is a good idea for a business to promote its ESG strategy, even if it isn’t legally obligated to do so. By publicly committing to its ESG strategy, the business is more likely to follow through. Plus, public discussion shows customers, investors, and competitors of the business’ commitment to ESG and could encourage those stakeholders to make similar commitments.

Continued Self-Reflection and Evaluation

Businesses should develop metrics so they can continuously evaluate the effectiveness of their ESG strategies. If ESG strategy isn’t effective in one or more areas, the business should make changes designed to increase impact

Futurecasting

ESG is dynamic. Yesterday’s social and environmental concerns different from today’s concerns, and tomorrow’s concerns will be different yet. The most effective ESG strategies will proactively anticipate and be ready for future industry ESG concerns. And the business should make the investments necessary, so it isn’t left behind when those ESG concerns become reality.

This series draws from Elizabeth Whitman’s background in and passion for classical music to illustrate creative solutions for legal challenges experienced by businesses and real estate investors.

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These Are the Most Influential People in the DC-Area Weed Business

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These Are the Most Influential People in the DC-Area Weed Business

Caroline Phillips
Founder, National Cannabis Festival and National Cannabis Policy Summit

As a kid growing up in 16th Street Heights during the ’90s and early 2000s, she’d watch her neighbors’ residences being raided for pot offenses. As an adult, she has turned her hometown into a destination for weed stans, organizing the area’s first cannabis festival in 2016. Nearly 20,000 people attended the last in-person event, at RFK; it now includes a policy component, too.

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Andras Kirschner and Ed Weidenfeld
Co-owners, Phyto Management and Maryland Cultivation and Processing

When longtime lawyer and Reagan campaign counsel Ed Weidenfeld was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, his son introduced him to farmer and Landon alum Andras Kirschner. The pair became partners in pot-growing ventures in Hagerstown and DC. The latter, Phyto, was DC’s highest-grossing in 2019, with $3.2 million in revenue. “I once thought cannabis would put users on the path to inevitable addiction,” Weidenfeld says. Now it “keeps me close to the beauty of life.”

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Jeffrey Kahn and Stephanie Reifkind Kahn
Owners, Takoma Wellness Center

After decades working in healthcare (Stephanie) and using his rabbinate to help families face illness (Jeffrey), the couple opened their dispensary in 2013, making it one of the longest-running in DC. It was also the city’s top-grossing in 2019, with $7.6 million in revenue. Pot is a family business: Son Josh works with his parents, and his brother, James, has worked for other local weed outfits.


Chanda macias

Owner/CEO, National Holistic Healing Center; CEO, Women Grow; first vice chair, National Cannabis Roundtable

The former director of STEM education at Howard University runs a six-year-old dispensary in Dupont Circle, the second-highest-grossing outfit in DC in 2019. She has national sway, too, mentoring people through the networking organization Women Grow and working to influence US policy as a leader in the cannabis-reform group chaired by former House speaker John Boehner.


Linda Greene Market

Owner/CEO, Anacostia Organics; chair, DC Cannabis Trade Association

A former chief of staff to Marion Barry saw opportunity when DC paused its dispensary licensing and no licenses had been granted east of the Anacostia River. She convinced the city to resume licensing and subsequently set up her dispensary in early 2019, just up from the Big Chair on MLK Avenue. On the side, she heads the advocacy group for the city’s growers and sellers.


Hope Wiseman

Owner/CEO, Mary & Main

When Wiseman—the former Falcons cheerleader who starred on the E! reality show WAGS Atlanta—opened her dispensary in Prince George’s County in 2018 at age 26, she became the youngest Black female dispensary owner in the US. This year, she plans to begin franchising to other minority entrepreneurs while organizing a canna-centric conference, “The 420 Experience.” Weed, she says, is “a great opportunity for minorities to build wealth.”


Bill Askinazi

Owner, Potomac Holistics

His Rockville dispensary was the first in Maryland, selling out every day for two months after it opened in 2017. As a former top official at the state’s economic-development agency, he worked with small businesses—his is now one of the only mom-and-pop pot shops left in Montgomery County.

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Josh Genderson

CEO, Holistic Industries

He learned about heavily regulated industries while working at his family’s longtime liquor store, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, and made the leap to pot in 2010. His company now operates two of the eight cultivation centers in the District. Holistic has also opened a dispensary division (it runs Lib­erty Cannabis in Rockville), has expanded to seven states, and is projected to gross $200 million in sales this year.


Corey Barnette

Owner/CEO, District Growers and Kinfolk

This MBA and former finance guy is the only person to head both a dispensary and a growing operation in DC: He founded a cultivation center in the Langdon neighborhood and acquired Kinfolk, formerly Metropolitan Wellness Center, a dispensary that’s relocating from Eastern Market to Mount Vernon Triangle. Barnette is often a spokesman for the local industry, testifying on the Hill and advocating for inclusivity within the business.


Erich Mauff

Cofounder/president, Jushi

Mauff is used to the competitive world of Big Cannabis: Before working at Deutsche Bank for nearly two decades, he rowed in the Olympics. Last year, his company acquired one of five licensees in Virginia’s inaugural class of “pharmaceutical processors”—facilities that house every step of the medical-cannabis process, from seed to sale. With a dispensary open in Manassas (called Beyond/Hello) and five more slated to open by mid-2022, Jushi-operated storefronts will be the only places to get medical marijuana in Northern Virginia.

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Jamila Hogan

Founder, the Green Life Learning Center and Pass the Jay

A cannabis judge who anoints prize-winning “strain hunters” at international contests—“When I say it’s good, it’s good”—Mills is to weed what a master somm is to wine. She may be the most erudite kush critic in DC, using her background as a former grower to review dispensary products and locally grown flowers on her website, Pass the Jay. Mills also consults and teaches, schooling growers and consumers in the olfactory elements that differentiate pot strains and their effects. Her pitch: More education + more discerning buyers = better bud.

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Giadha A. DeCarcer

Founder, New Frontier Data

She honed her Big Data skills working in the intelligence field and at JP Morgan Chase. Now she churns out GFN and market forecasts for weed investors and business owners. Her seven-year-old firm expanded its stake in the industry in 2018 when it bought Hemp Business Journal and again last year when it acquired Higher Data, an industry database.

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“DC Scroger”

@dcscroger

His alias derives from “scrogging,” a growing technique that maximizes yield per plant—helpful for pot growers in DC, where residents are restricted to six flowering plants apiece. He teaches classes for serious homegrowers, throws Bring Your Own Bucket soil-mixing parties, and preaches the virtues of self-sufficiency on his Instagram.

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Leah Sera

Director, MS Program in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

Sera oversees the first medical-marijuana master’s degree in the country, helping train the next generation of cannabis professionals. The two-year-old program covers the scientific, cultural, and political aspects of weed—from a distance. Because of federal laws, neither Sera nor her 400 students can actually touch what they’re studying.

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Mark Nagib

Co-owner/creative director, Pink Fox

After being laid off from their lobbying-firm gigs a few years ago, Nagib and his partner, who goes by “Keo,” started developing DC-centric designs for their high-end gifting company. (Gifters sell token items and give pot away for free, a workaround of District law.) Instead of cheap stickers or trinkets, Pink Fox sells limited-edition loungewear, vibing weed-as-your-best-life. Naturally, Nagib and Keo also host a podcast.


Davis Clayton Kiyo

Owner/CEO, Myster and Octave

His two local storefronts shuttered after a 2016 police raid at one of them, but the Bethesda native continues to sell Myster’s high-end hardware online. The accessories—including the best-known all-in-one Stashtray, inspired by minimalist and modern design—are crafted to be cool enough for the Insta generation but also appeal to the clean-cut sensibilities of a corporate type. Octave, a new venture launched last year, makes high-tech smoking ware for the techy stoner crowd.

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Michael J. Correia

Director of government relations, National Cannabis Industry Association

Before becoming Big Pot’s head lobbyist in 2013, he worked for its prototypical enemy: Republicans. He spent a decade-plus on the Hill and was director of federal affairs at ALEC, the clearinghouse for conservative legislation. Today at NCIA he represents more than 1,000 cannabusinesses.


Queen Adesuyi

Policy manager, Drug Policy Alliance

The 26-year-old Bronx native saw the disparate impacts of pot policing on her hometown versus at her alma mater, Georgetown. Now she lobbies for racial justice in weed policy, pushing for federal criminal-justice reform in Congress and for equity in how the District regulates the industry.


Jenn Michelle Pedini

Executive director, Virginia NORML; development director, NORML

A veteran of Disney World and corporate marketing, Pedini has a background in storytelling, which has been useful at NORML’s chapter in the Old Dominion. During the 2021 legislative session, Pedini’s years-long effort to get Virginia to legalize recreational marijuana was successful—a first among Southern states.

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Diamond Riley

Founder, DC Bake Shop

The former pop-up player has been an innovator in edibles. She gifts Milk Bar–inspired treats and pizzas with sativa-infused sauce to people who make top-dollar donations; a half dozen cupcakes go to a donor of $110, for instance. Pre-pandemic, Riley brought cannabis programming to the Wing coworking club.


Jazmine Moore

Owner/CEO, Green Panther Chef

Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2007, the chef weighed 84 pounds and was desperate for relief, which she found by infusing juice with cannabis. Today Moore caters spreads of edibles for patients and parties, dosing niçoise salads and coq au vin for up to $10,000 per spread. She also has a line of CBD condiments designed to aid gut health.

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Adam Eidinger and Nikolas Schiller
Founders, DC Marijuana Justice

Their fame in local pot circles goes back to 2011, when police raided the Capitol Hemp store that Eidinger then co-owned. (He avoided prosecution by closing the shop.) Schiller and Eidinger later formed their advocacy group, helping craft and pass Initiative 71, the ballot measure that legalized pot possession in the District. When it became law in 2015, Mayor Bowser awarded Eidinger a “420” license plate. Now that the city is debating full legalization, expect to see more of their joint effort—Eidinger getting handcuffed for the cause (he’s currently at 26 arrests) and Schiller staying behind to tell the story.

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Meredith Kinner and Johnny McGowan
Partners, Kinner & McGowan

They opened their litigation practice in 2015, becoming one of the first firms to dedicate themselves to DC’s cannabis market. The Capitol Hill–based duo help cannabusinesses unravel the Gordian knot of banking, zoning, and licensing regulations in a shifting legal landscape.


Lonny Bramzon

Owner, Street Lawyer Services

A Miami-raised criminal-defense attorney with a weed side hustle, Bramzon started an H Street gifting operation to market his Silver Spring law firm: The shop sells coupons for legal services, and the weed is free. His “budtenders,” a fleet of young women who work the counters (and call themselves SLS Women), help market the shop to their own micro-influencer followings and are at work with Bramzon to develop a women-focused pot line. He also just launched an expungement-advocacy campaign to get DC-area courts to wipe records clean of weed-related convictions.

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Natalie done

Reporter, Politico

When Politico launched its pot vertical a year and a halfago, it became the first mainstream publication with a cannabis team. Fertig, its federal-policy reporter, covers everything pot-related on Capitol Hill, from financial regulation to agriculture and criminal justice. It’s “the ultimate policy-reporting job,” she says, “because it’s completely new.”

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7 dispensaries

8 cultivation centers

9,276 patients registered

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19 dispensaries

0 cultivation centers

22,455 patients registered

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8 dispensaries

1 cultivation center

12,952 patients registered

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4 pharmaceutical processors

0 Pounds of flower sold. That’s because the Commonwealth’s current medical program is limited to non-combustible forms such as oils, creams, and capsules.

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