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Brutality against children ‘cannot be the new normal’

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The scale of attack on children in conflict zones throughout 2017 is “shocking” said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), calling on all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law and immediately end violations and attacks against children.

Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, the Director of Emergency Programmes at UNICEF, in a news release Thursday.

“As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”

According to UNICEF, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight in conflicts around the world.

Sexual violence, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become “standard tactics,” in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar, said the UN agency.

In addition to the physical trauma children have had to suffer, far too many children have been subjected to the psychosocial trauma in having to witnesses shocking and widespread violence.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and many children have died as a result of lack of health care, medicines or access to food and water, because these services and were damaged or destroyed in fighting.

In some contexts, children abducted by extremist groups experience abuse yet again upon release when they are detained by security forces, added UNICEF.

In the news release, the UN agency underscored the need of all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

UNICEF also called on all States with influence over parties to conflict “to use that influence to protect children.”

Health & Wellness

Making face creams from coffee beans as cosmetics get greener

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By Tom Cassauwers

‘Plant ingredients have always been used in cosmetics,’ said Heiko Rischer, head of plant biotechnology at VTT, a Finnish research centre. ‘But in recent years, there’s been a revived interest in plant-based compounds. Consumers are interested in greener and more sustainable ingredients.’

Today, most of the key ingredients used in the €80 billion European cosmetics industry are synthetic or animal-based or taken from wild plants. Producing these ingredients sometimes includes solvents or processes that are unsustainable and are becoming less popular with consumers. Harvesting wild plants also puts natural ecosystems under pressure.

Rischer and other European scientists are investigating how to get more natural and sustainable plant-based ingredients into cosmetic products.

Ecosystem pressure

The EU-funded InnCoCells project that VTT is coordinating is creating alternative ingredient options by growing plants or plant cells for use in cosmetics in a sustainable way.

‘We grow plant cells and organs in bioreactors,’ Rischer said. ‘But other partners grow the entire plants in aeroponics and greenhouses or in the field.’

InnCoCells is researching the commercial production of innovative cosmetic ingredients from plants such as basil or aromatic ginger.

‘Our work is currently in a bio-prospecting stage,’ said Rischer. ‘We evaluate different plant species for compounds. We start from a wide range of potential plants and reduce them over time.’

The team aims to develop up to 10 ingredients to bring to the market within the next three years – although it’s still early days for a project that started in May 2021.

‘Finding our way in this jungle of plant options is a challenge,’ Rischer said.

The focus is on the bio-active compounds in cosmetics, meaning the ingredients that create a desired effect such as anti-ageing of the skin rather than ingredients like stabilisers or fragrances. An essential part of the work in InnCoCells is to have the cosmetics do what they promise in a transparent way.

‘Cosmetics need to open up the evidence, so that products actually do what they claim,’ said Rischer. ‘This would really help the consumer make choices. When we buy food, there’s a lot of information on the package helping the consumer. We need to do the same for cosmetics.’

Coffee creams

In a separate, just-ended, initiative to green the cosmetics industry, the EU-funded Prolific project transformed plant residues into ingredients for beauty products. The team extracted polyphenols from coffee silverskins, a type of compound useful in cosmetics because of its anti-ageing effects on the skin. The polyphenol extract was standardised and used in a prototype face cream.

Normally, polyphenols are already derived from plants. But the compound is extracted through a chemical procedure resulting in waste that needs to be disposed of carefully. The project applied an environmentally friendly method, called subcritical water extraction, which only uses water under very high pressure to extract the polyphenols from the coffee silverskins.

All in all, the Prolific research used a range of new processes to derive useful compounds from agricultural waste of different plant sources such as coffee beans, fungi and legumes.

‘We use a cascading approach,’ said Annalisa Tassoni, the project’s scientific coordinator and an associate professor at the University of Bologna in Italy. ‘We do a first extraction, after which we look at what remains and try to extract another compound.’

Ultimately the residual fibres were used at different stages of production. Three prototype cosmetics were made by Greek partner company COSMETIC including a face cream, toothpaste and even a container jar that was made from plant fibres.

‘We valorise all the parts of the residues,’ said Georgios Tsatsos, general director of COSMETIC. ‘This goes up to the fibres left after the extraction process.’

Plant-based compounds

Several steps need to be taken before these green compounds can reach the cosmetics market. The techniques used by Prolific in processing coffee are close to being introduced into cosmetics production, but the methods need to be scaled up so that plant-based compounds can compete with synthetic ones.

‘There’s a lot playing in favour of this process for coffee,’ said Tassoni, ‘We opened up perspectives, and confirmed that certain techniques really work.’

While it will be difficult to outcompete all of the synthetic techniques in use in the cosmetics industry, Rischer is optimistic about the outlook for more environmentally sound approaches.

‘The cosmetics market is very big and diverse,’ he said. ‘Consumers are demanding more sustainable and green cosmetics, and within our own niche, we can have an impact.’

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This material was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.   

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Energy News

Best Practice: Why Going Green Is Best for Business

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Why Going Green is Best for Business

Over recent years, more companies have turned their attention to becoming greener and more environmentally friendly. But once the pandemic hit, companies shifted their focus away from initiatives, choosing to prioritize recouping their losses and staying afloat. However, dropping their environmental goals to protect their growth can be seen as short-sighted.

According to research data collected from over 35 countries, businesses, on average, perform better when employing green practices for multiple reasons. And while it might be difficult for some to make the changes needed to see this increased performance, companies like Signet in Australia understand the importance of staying committed to their eco-friendly ventures.

Tap into Emerging Niche Markets

A company can open itself to untapped niche markets and emerging trends by offering new green products and services, which is a great way to differentiate the company from its competitors. In some cases, companies committed to reducing their carbon footprint and boosting their green initiatives received millions in investment during the pandemic when most others struggled to keep their doors open. And as the world continues to struggle post-pandemic, these investments become invaluable.

D’light, a company dedicated to lighting solutions for those without access to any electricity, was able to help over 100 million people in 70 countries with their green products, simultaneously acquiring US$ 197 million in investment. In addition, Danish energy supplier, Ørsted, was named the most sustainable company in the world. Their success came from transforming themselves into green energy suppliers, and as a result, they have seen accelerated profits on their books.

Catering to these niche markets makes businesses the leaders of their sectors, allowing them to expand rapidly into international markets. And while such environments may only be realistic for some, it is possible to reexamine working practices and processes to make them more accessible.

Increased Efficiency

By making processes greener, companies can benefit from efficiency gains in the form of lower energy costs, securing green tax credits, and improving overall operational efficiency, to name a few. Moreover, these types of gains directly lead to commercial benefits. They can be as simple as printing fewer documents, reducing electrical usage in offices, and employing reusable or refillable items where possible.

In the UK, 78% of businesses investing in green technologies have benefited tremendously. And for large companies, like Procter & Gamble, this can translate into billions. On the other end of the spectrum, however, those causing environmental harm should be prepared to face ever-increasing costs and negative impacts within their business spheres.

Improved Employee Motivation

As eco-friendly business practices become the way of the future, job seekers are showing more interest and desire to work for companies committed to this cause. It is a common belief that if an employer cares for the environment and sustainability, they will care for their employees, which ultimately leads to higher job satisfaction.

These work environments facilitate an increased feeling of purpose, which in turn, makes work feel more meaningful. In addition, a recent poll indicates that millennials and Gen Z’s have far higher levels of concern for the environment. And considering these are the generations currently breaking into the job market, it is more logical to cater to this consideration.

By some estimates, there could be as much as a 16% boost to employee productivity in companies following greener trajectories.

Increased Engagement

Nearly all consumers worry about at least one environmental issue, with roughly half going as far as boycotting companies they deem too harmful. Ultimately, they want to make more responsible purchases, which should be viewed as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Making it easier for people to access clear recycling and sustainability information on packaging can help them make better choices and build loyalty to certain brands.

Along with more customers, green initiatives are appealing to stakeholders and investors. According to research focusing on American companies from 1993-2009, those with high sustainability had far superior stock market performances, leading to more lucrative investments. Additionally, investors have started to expect a lot more regarding these practices, made evident by the increase of global sustainability investments to US$30.7 trillion by April 2019.

Polysolar, which specializes in glazed windows that generate electricity, raised more than double the investment amount it was after through crowdfunding alone. Likewise, Unilever, attempting to rectify a poor history of exploitation, has already received increased engagement and loyalty thanks to the changes it is making.

Going green is not a simple process or quick fix. Business spheres differ and require different approaches to achieve a more eco-friendly impact. It takes effort and commitment to sustain for businesses and consumers alike. But, regardless of which side of the spectrum you fall on, this is the global industry’s future. To be connected and supported, making the necessary changes as early as possible is crucial to set companies on steady roads moving forward.

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Finance

France challenges UK for title of Europe’s Greatest Equities Market

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Paris is challenging London’s leadership as home to Europe’s largest stock market, undermining post-Brexit Britain’s standing as the continent’s most important financial center, – recognizes “The Financial Times”.

The market capitalization of all companies listed in the French capital rose from $1.8 trillion at the start of 2016 to $2.83 trillion, closing the value of London shares at $2.89 trillion, according to Refinitiv.

“It is a result of the poor performance of British equities, the poor pipeline and performance of new issues in the UK, and the terrible performance of the pound. It is clearly not good news for London – and Brexit is a big factor in all three.”

To re-establish its traditional leadership, the UK government aims in the coming months to finalize proposals to reform the City of London.

However, competition from Paris is set to intensify as France is rated the preferred European stock market by fund managers. 17 percent of fund managers said they planned to “overweight” French equities over the next 12 months, according to a Bank of America survey of 161 investment managers with combined assets of $313 billion.

Paris is difficult London’s lead as the house to Europe’s greatest inventory market, consuming away at Britain’s place after Brexit because the continent’s most essential monetary centre.

“This gap between London and Paris in the domestic market is a lot smaller than it used to be or should be,” stated William Wright, founding father of New Financial, a UK think-tank, – writes “Business Land”.

…Thus the strange politics of London in recent years – from Brexit to a kaleidoscope of people in the prime minister’s chair, has led to the fact that Britain may say ‘goodbye’ even to such a privilege as being the financial center of the World and Europe.

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