The Comforts of Home: Scottish Social Entrepreneur Is the Landlord Every Tenant Deserves

Susan Aktemel was a social entrepreneur in Scotland before most Scots even knew the word. Now she’s considered a national leader in the social-enterprise sector, thanks especially to her second venture, Homes For Good, which helps people in need find affordable high-quality housing.

Based in Glasgow, Homes For Good, a joint venture with London-based social-impact investors Impact Ventures UK, was Scotland’s first mission-driven letting agent. Letting is a term similar in meaning to leasing—it relates to renting properties to tenants for a limited duration.

Related: Want to get first-hand experience with Scotland’s social-enterprise sector? Join the Sullivan Foundation’s Study Abroad in Scotland trip to Edinburgh this summer.

Homes For Good works with people and families with limited housing choices, including those who are experiencing or are on the verge of homelessness. The company manages a portfolio of around 500 homes and works with 130 landlords and 800 tenants in the Glasgow area and western Scotland. It uses a holistic approach to supporting its tenants, helping them with benefits claims, financial management, cooking meals, education and getting mental health support.

In addition to attracting more than €12 million from investors since its inception, Homes For Good won the Excellence in the Private Rented Sector award at the CIH Scotland Excellence Awards in 2019. “Over half of our staff have personal experience of poor conditions in privately rented homes, while our support model was produced with tenants with direct experience of insecure and low-quality rental housing,” Aktemel said at the time.

this photo shows Susan Aktemel, founder of Homes For Good

Susan Aktemel, founder of Homes For Good in Glasgow, Scotland.

The social venture also received €2.4 million in funding from Scotland’s National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF) last September.

Aktemel entered the social-venture field in 1994 with Impact Arts, a community arts management agency. The business uses the arts and creativity to bring about social change, working with children, young people and the elderly. Prior to founding Impact Arts, she taught adult literacy in poor sections of Glasgow. “I ended up working with people who couldn’t read and write their own names and addresses in one of the most deprived parts of the city,” she said in an interview with the Impact Boom podcast. “That made me take the decision that I was going to focus my professional time on helping people change their lives.”

Related: Scottish government commits millions to funding social enterprises in 2020

In an August 2018 interview with the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), Aktemel said she launched Homes For Good after working with letting agencies during her 10-plus years as a private landlord and seeing firsthand the problems faced by vulnerable renters. She decided to start her own letting agency and use her experience as a social entrepreneur “to run it totally differently.”

“It all stemmed from dissatisfaction with letting agents, both from my position as a landlord and from my tenants,” she told INSP. “We started up on a shoestring, and there was a gradual build-up, so in that sense it started similarly to many social enterprises. What made the logistical beginning of the business different was [that] my track record was more experienced than most start-ups, and so we had more momentum. I saw a need, a gap in the letting agent business model—this massive social need—so I looked to fill it.”

She said she designed the business model “from an aggrieved standpoint: letting agents would always deliver rent late, there was a lack of communication, always issues with repairs, and unpleasant surprises.”

Aktemel’s approach is focused on improving communications among all parties involved in a letting agreement. “We try to build relationships,” she told INSP. “We look for tenants that we’re not setting up to fail, and we’re giving people homes and relating to them as people rather than customers or clients or someone simply to get money from. We are all just human beings.”

Related: Sullivan Foundation announces Study Abroad in Scotland program for 2020

“We work across the whole letting market—not just with marginalized people—as this is what keeps the business model viable,” she added. “But, importantly, no matter what type of home you end up with, no matter the location, no matter the price or rent, everyone is treated the same.”

the Homes For Good building

In the Impact Boom podcast, Aktemel said social enterprise has blossomed in Scotland in part because it’s such a small country. “What that means is that you can get access to who you need to access very quickly,” she explained. “The networks are good. Because we’ve got devolved government, we have access to politicians.”

Scotland’s government “gets social enterprise,” she added. Even with shifts in political winds, “the commitment to social enterprise has strengthened, so when government gets behind something and then puts the resources in place and talks about it, that’s when things can start to happen. So over the last 10 [or] 12 years, there has been this brilliant ecosystem for social enterprise that has been created in Scotland, where, if you have an idea and you need 2,000 pounds, there’s an organization that can help you—right through to if you need to raise a seven-figure investment, there’s an organization that can help you. And lots of different organizations in between.”


Teeniors Helps Teens, Senior Citizens Bond Through Technology

Senior citizens know a lot about life, but digital technology leaves many of them stumped and feeling isolated in a fast-paced, rapidly evolving world. A social enterprise called Teeniors, located in Albuquerque, works to solve that problem by matching elderly adults with tech-savvy young people who can explain the complexities of using a smartphone, computer or tablet.

Founder Trish Lopez first pitched the idea for Teeniors at the inaugural Startup Weekend Women’s event in New Mexico in 2015. After winning first place in the competition, Teeniors was chosen to participate in a local business accelerator and soon acquired its first client. Operating as a small social venture with a nonprofit arm, Teeniors has tutored more than 2,000 older adults in Albuquerque while providing paid, meaningful work to dozens of teenagers and millennials, according to the company’s website.

this photo shows a Teeniors teen with an elderly client

A tutor from Teeniors helps a senior citizen understand how to operate her smartphone.

In a recent story by NPR, Lopez said she started the company after seeing her own mother struggling with her computer. “She’d lose a password, she’d lose a document, and then she didn’t know some simple commands like Control Z that could undo everything she had just done,” Lopez told NPR. “And so she would start all over again.”

Related: Editor of Rhodes College’s street newspaper hopes to drive social change through economics

Teenagers who work in the Teeniors program develop fundamental “people skills,” such as patience, empathy and listening. Their senior-adult pupils learn how to operate their smartphones, navigate their tablets, and create, save and print documents on laptops and desktops. The teenage tutors also teach seniors the ins and outs of everything from Apple TVs to Amazon Echo.

Teeniors offers private individual sessions and group events. Private sessions at the Teeniors office cost $49.95 per hour, while sessions at the client’s home cost $59.95 per hour. Group sessions cost between $300 and $500, depending on the number of attendees.

The young tutors, meanwhile, earn $15 an hour for individual lessons and $10 an hour for group sessions.

Trish Lopez, founder of Teeniors

Teeniors launched a nonprofit arm in 2017, thus qualifying for grants to expand its services to low-income clients who can’t afford to pay. So far, the nonprofit has won $115,000 in grants from Comcast, Facebook, Hewitt Packard, Blue Cross Blue Shield New Mexico, the Albuquerque Community Foundation and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Teeniors uses the grant money to offer free workshops throughout central New Mexico.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Facebook last year awarded Teeniors a $40,000 grant to provide up to 60 free workshops at five senior centers in Valencia County. The social media giant wants to make sure consumers can use technology to improve their lives, William Marks, Facebook’s Western Region community development manager, told the newspaper.

“Teeniors takes the next generation of students and links them with generations of adults who didn’t grow up with technology,” Marks said. “It helps make the adults’ lives better, and it builds real connections by allowing teens and seniors to share and learn about each other, and the teens are getting paid. Everyone at Facebook just loves the program.”

Related: Students at Berry College help preserve elderly patients’ memories with heirloom books

Camilla Dodson, a 76-year-old who moved to the U.S. from Lesotho in southern Africa in 2000, said her workshop experience with Teeniors has liberated her. “Now I can carry the phone in the car, and I can make a 911 call if I need to or take pictures,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. “Now I’m free like everyone else.”

this photo shows Kaitlyn Akron, a Teeniors tutor

Teeniors tutor Kaitlyn Akron

Kaitlyn Akron, an 18-year-old college freshman, started working for Teeniors when she was just 14. “It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself to talk with people and to realize I can teach others about things that I know,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. “It’s really fulfilling. People would think it’s stressful coaching older people, but I love seeing that ‘a-ha’ moment when they get it.”

“I think that’s why we’ve been so successful,” Lopez told NPR. “The intergenerational learning experience is really remarkable, and that’s why I always say the main service we provide is not tech support. It is human connection.”

How to Solve the Global Extinction Crisis for Just $100 Billion

By Andrea Germanos, Staff Writer, Common Dreams

As the United Nations unveiled on Jan. 13 a draft proposal to address threats to biodiversity, a new report outlined a strategy for a U.S.-focused “visionary action to save life on Earth.”

The roadmap (pdf) was released Monday by the Center for Biological Diversity. It lays out specific steps for the United States to help end the global extinction crisis—at a cost of a relatively measly $100 billion, a fraction of what Congress recently allocated for defense spending.

From the ongoing “insect apocalypse” and the deterioration of  “ecosystems on which we and all other species depend” to the hurtling of roughly one million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction, the need for swift and far-reaching action is clear. “The presence of wildlife brings joy and enriches us all—and each extinction makes our home a lonelier and colder place for us and future generations,” the report states.

The weight of the problem is reflected in the report’s title: Saving Life on Earth (pdf).

Related: Reducing Carbon Emissions: Duke professor recommends strategy to break political stalemate on climate change

“Humans have never witnessed the profound level of wildlife losses unfolding in front of us right now,” said Tierra Curry, a scientist at the Center.

While the problem is global in scope, the report calls on the U.S. to be a leader in addressing the issue. It lists five broad policy changes to kickstart that effort:

  • Restore American Leadership at Global Level on Fighting the Extinction Crisis.
  • Protect Key Habitats by Creating 500 New National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and Marine Sanctuaries.
  • Restore the full power of the Endangered Species Act and Rebuild Wildlife Populations.
  • Establish Strict “No-Discharge” Pollution Limits That Are Protective of Wildlife.
  • Stem the Tide of Invasive Species.
this picture of a koala illustrates species threatened by the global extinction crisis

Australia’s bushfires are contributing to the global extinction crisis. (Photo by James Frid from Pexels)

Woven into those categories, which include congressional actions like expanding “the boundaries of most national parks so that they are ecologically viable and also resilient to threats like climate change,” are 10 actions the president should take on their own:

  1. Declare the global extinction crisis to be a national emergency.
  2. Establish 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries.
  3. Strengthen public-land management to prioritize biodiversity and maintain abundant wildlife.
  4. Protect all critically imperiled wildlife and plants that are not yet on the endangered species list.
  5. Implement an ecosystem-approach to recovery that protects habitat, fosters ecological processes, and addresses climate change.
  6. Require all federal agencies to develop proactive conservation plans for endangered species and to identify and protect critical habitat on their properties.
  7. Require the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the precautionary principle when it regulates chemicals and pesticides.
  8. Ban the discharge of chemicals, pesticides, and pollutants into freshwater and marine ecosystems, and impose 100% recycling standards for all plastic products while we transition away from oil-based plastics.
  9. Require all federal agencies to use their full authorities to combat the spread of invasive species.
  10. Designate and protect wildlife corridors, including the construction of 1,000 new wildlife overpasses and underpasses.

Related: The pivotal role of youth fighting climate change

Despite the wide scope of the global extinction crisis problem, all is not bleak. “It is not too late to save the world’s natural heritage from annihilation,” the report states. The publication points to bright spots, such as dam removals that have helped restore salmon and other migratory fish and the rebounding of the bald eagle in the lower 48 states after the population was decimated by the use of DDT.

The price tag for the ambitious roadmap? $100 billion—just a fraction of the $738 billion military spending bill that a bipartisan Congress passed last month.

The report breaks down how the $100 billion should be allocated:

  • $20 billion to recover endangered species
  • $20 billion to create 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges, and national marine sanctuaries
  • $10 billion in assistance to the state Fish and Wildlife agencies to conserve declining wildlife
  • $10 billion for global coral restoration
  • $10 billion for neotropical migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere
  • $10 billion to save international biodiversity hotspots
  • $10 billion to combat illegal wildlife trafficking
  • $10 billion to address the spread of invasive species around the world.

“We are the first human generations to fully understand the consequences of mass extinction,” the report states. “The question now is simply, will we act to stop it?”

This story was edited slightly from the original article published on the Common Dreams website. The article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 


Litter Police: Crew of Clean-Up Crows Roam Puy du Fou Theme Park

A crew of clean-up workers at the Puy du Fou theme park in western France has a major advantage over the average custodian: They can fly.

Six rooks, members of the crow family, roam around the park and pick up litter, such as discarded paper and cigarette butts. The birds, named Boubou, Bamboo, Bill, Black, Bricole and Baco, retrieve the litter and place it in a specially designed box. They’re immediately paid for their hard work in bird feed, of course.

Related: Hotel for dogs lets guests adopt stray pups in the lobby

“The park is very clean,” Puy du Fou President Nicolas de Villiers told NPR. “The purpose of the crows … is to educate people, to open their minds, to think, ‘OK, the birds are able to do something that we are much more able to do than them, so we should do this by ourselves.”

In other words: If a bird can do it, why can’t I?

Christophe Gaborit, who trains falcons for a falconry show at Puy du Fou, came up with the idea. The park had already trained crows to pick up roses and deliver them to a “princess” in a castle as part of the show, so he taught the rooks a similar skill with litter. “It became a game for them,” de Villiers told NPR. “They pick up the papers on the floor, and they are rewarded.”

this photo shows a crow picking up litter at Puy du Fou

One section of the box is designed to accept the litter, while another section dispenses food to the birds as a reward. The birds work four-day weeks, but they don’t take the place of human employees.

Crows, ravens and rooks are all known to be remarkably intelligent, capable of using tools, solving problems that require reasoning skills, recognizing human faces and even giving gifts to people who feed them.


Hotel for Dogs Lets Guests Foster or Adopt Stray Pups

Who needs room service when you can stay in a hotel that offers an adoptable shelter dog for company? That’s the idea behind a unique program at Home 2 Suites, an extended-stay hotel in Biloxi, Miss.

In a partnership with the Humane Society of South Mississippi, Home 2 Suites lets every dog has its day—or a month or a lifetime—with guests. As USA Today reports, the hotel has a large kennel in the lobby with specially chosen dogs in need of a home. Guests can opt to foster a dog for the length of their stay without making a commitment, but if they fall in love, they can fill out an application, pay a $50 fee at the concierge desk, and take it home furever.

Related: This 12-year-old social entrepreneur uses bowties to help shelter animals get adopted.

Once-homeless canines live the easy life in a hotel for dogs in Biloxi, Miss. (Photo by Humane Society of South Mississippi)

Located on the Gulf Coast, Biloxi is home to the sprawling Keesler Air Force Base, while nearby Gulfport has the Naval Construction Battalion Center. That means the region attracts numerous visitors for lengthy stays for military-related business. Many of these transient guests “stay for months at a time … and that’s just enough time to fall in love with a dog,” said Bianca Janik of the Humane Society of South Mississippi, in the USA Today story.

The hotel’s sales director, Teresa Johnston, hit upon the idea to create a long-term foster program embedded in the facility. “Teresa thought they needed to set their hotel apart, and this was it,” Janik told USA Today. “She wanted to have the business more involved with the community. It was a very out-of-the-box way to find our animals new homes, so we were on board.”

In addition to offering an adoption program at Homes 2 Suites, the Humane Society of Mississippi partners with local stores like PetSmart to find homes for adoptable animals.

Every dog has already been neutered or spayed, microchipped and gotten up to date on vaccinations and preventative heartworm medication. Not every dog in the shelter is a good candidate for the program, of course, and not everyone who applies to adopt a dog is allowed to do so, Janik told the paper. “We reserve the right to deny. (We) may tell them we don’t feel comfortable, come visit our shelter tomorrow, and we’ll find one that is right.”

Related: Rollins College students train service dogs for people with disabilities.

But as of late November last year, 33 guests had adopted dogs through the program. All in all, the shelter takes in about 8,000 dogs a year and manages to adopt out nearly 80 percent of them.

Stray animals are a major problem in Mississippi and throughout the American South. According to Mississippi Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks Mississippi as the nation’s second-worst state for animals, second only to Kentucky, which actually prohibits veterinarians from reporting animal abuse.

This “DoGoodr” Uses Technology to Feed the Hungry and Reduce Food Waste

As millions of Americans go hungry, restaurants across the country keep throwing away perfectly good food every day. It’s a troubling problem that social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe hopes to solve—at least in the Atlanta area—with a mission-driven business called Goodr that uses technology to feed the hungry and reduce food waste.

Aside from the disturbing moral and ethical implications of tossing edible food in dumpsters, Crowe realized that, from the perspective of a business owner, wasted food is wasted money. She founded Goodr as a food waste management company that helps businesses measure and reduce food waste, keep track of surplus food and earn tax savings while helping address the problem of food insecurity.

“Hunger is not an issue of scarcity. It’s a matter of logistics,” Crowe explained to Black Enterprise. “At Goodr, we’re solving the surplus food supply chain problem, ensuring the safe delivery of this food from businesses that have it to nonprofit organizations and people that need it, all while allowing businesses for the first time to be able to track, account, and earn from their donations. We focus on connecting the business and the nonprofit, and our logistics platform is what we built that does that for us.”

That logistics platform, an app called Blockchain, serves as a secure ledger. It allows companies to track the donations of their surplus food while taking advantage of significant tax deductions using Goodr’s IRS-compliant form. The platform provides predictive data to improve purchasing and make better production decisions, which helps reduce food waste. It also provides analytics on food waste, calculates tax savings for the food donated by Goodr’s clients and measures the community impact of their donations.

this photo depicts Jasmine Crowe and her Goodr team that works to feed the hungry and reduce food waste

Social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe (third from left) leads the Goodr team in its mission to feed the hungry and reduce food waste in Atlanta.

As for the food itself, Goodr picks up donated food from the individual client businesses and delivers it to nonprofits, who then get it into the hands of hungry people. According to Forbes, Goodr’s clients include Turner Broadcasting Systems, Georgia World Congress Center and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, among others.

Crowe has been working to help feed the hungry and the food-insecure since she first moved to Atlanta six years ago. “I was just driving through downtown and saw hundreds of people that were experiencing homelessness on the streets,” she told Black Enterprise. “I felt really compelled that I had to do something.”

For starters, she began cooking and serving meals to the homeless, first in the streets and later in a pop-up restaurant called Sunday Soul that provided five-course meals to the homeless and hungry. She estimates she served more than 80,000 meals to the food-insecure since 2013. But she wasn’t getting any help from local businesses to pay for all that food.

“When a video from one of my pop-up restaurants went viral, I saw a lot of people asking me which restaurants and grocery stores donated the food, and the reality was that the answer was zero,” she recalled to Forbes in 2018. “It got me thinking, why don’t these restaurants and businesses donate food? This is when I started thinking of solutions to get this food to people in need. I knew there had to be a better way, and I saw technology as the conduit to the change I wanted to create.”

this photo shows a Goodr team member talking about reducing food waste and composting

Goodr isn’t just about feeding the hungry and reducing food waste. At a TasteofATL event at the Atlanta airport, Goodr’s “trash talkers” helped educate attendees on waste and compost.

Meanwhile, Crowe was also struck by the proliferation of food delivery companies like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Postmates. “It dawned on me that we were spending millions of dollars to create new technologies to get food to people who never have issues with access to food, but what were we doing with all the millions of people that are never knowing where their next meal is coming from?” Crowe told Black Enterprise.

Crowe sees Goodr as, first and foremost, a food waste management company, but it’s a company that uses surplus food as food should be used—to feed people, not rats in a landfill. “The businesses are already paying somebody to throw the food away,” she said in the Black Enterprise interview. “There’s always a fee that’s being paid to eliminate trash.”

Crowe’s business model creates a win-win-win: Goodr turns a profit while empowering other businesses to better serve their communities and feed the hungry—and reap tax rewards for doing the right thing. In the Forbes interview, Crowe said Goodr has diverted more than 1 million pounds of food from landfills while creating more than 940,000 meals for the hungry. “We’ve created programs like our pop-up grocery stores [and] a neighborhood eats program [and] created access to food [for] thousands of people who were faced with going to bed hungry simply because of transportation barriers that prevented people from accessing food.”


Some Airports Make Strides to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg gave up airplane trips to fight climate change—no easy feat considering the Swedish teen’s often grueling travel schedule. Now airlines and airports hope to prove they’re also dedicated to protecting the environment, starting with efforts to reduce single-use plastics in airports and on flights.

The San Francisco International Airport has led the charge in the U.S. with its Zero Waste Concessions Program. In August 2019, the airport became the first in the nation to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. It’s a significant step considering that, according to CNBC, nearly 4 million plastic water bottles were sold at the airport in 2018 alone. The San Francisco airport now encourages passengers to bring their own reusable water bottles and take advantage of free water from hydration stations located around the facility. Passengers can also buy bottled water sold in recyclable aluminum or glass or in compostable packaging.

Related: Duke University professor proposes solution to breaking political stalemate on reducing carbon emissions

The airport continues to allow the sale of sodas, teas and juices in plastic bottles, CNBC reports.

Joining in the climate-change effort in September 2019 was the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, which announced that it was phasing out all single-use plastic straws.

Other airports around the world are also taking steps toward sustainability, including the Glasgow Airport in Scotland, which last February offered free reusable water bottles to all employees working in or around the airport. And the Airports Authority of India announced in October 2019 that at least 55 airports around the country would ban single-use plastic straws, cutlery and plates.

this photo shows an alternative bottle as airports ban single-use plastic water bottles

Reusable bottles, such as those created by companies like Klean Kanteen, provide an alternative to single-use plastic water bottles. (PHOTO BY KLEAN KANTEEN)

Meanwhile, as of Jan. 1, 2020, Dubai International Airport and Dubai World Central Airport pledged to ban single-use plastic items including cutlery, straws, meal packaging and bags. “Along with our partners, including global brands such as McDonald’s, Costa Coffee and Starbucks, we are committed to not only removing single-use plastics but in their place providing appropriate and, importantly, sustainable alternatives,” Dubai Airports’ Executive Vice President Eugene Barry told CNBC. Meanwhile, until better alternatives for plastic bottles are found, the Dubai airports will focus its efforts on bottle recycling.

Still, the aviation industry has a long way to go, especially since airplanes themselves contribute substantially to overall greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations forecast that airplane emissions of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, would exceed 900 million metric tons in 2018 and then triple by 2050. Worse, according to the New York Times, the UN might be underestimating the threat. In the fall of 2019, the International Council on Clean Transportation reported that emissions from global air travel might be increasing more than 1.5 times faster than the UN forecast.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is helping save the world from plastic waste

Worldwide, air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions, the New York Times reported. Furthermore, “one study found that the rapid growth in plane emissions could mean that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s ‘carbon budget,’ or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”

For its part, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has launched a three-pronged effort to reduce the aviation industry’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 by setting new aircraft standards, a market-based carbon trading program and operational improvements. Additionally, the ICAO called on its members to explore other ways to reduce their carbon footprint through electricity consumption, ground transportation, ground support operations for aircraft and fuel tank farms.

Edible Bowls and Plates Could Take a Bite out of Plastic Waste

When the bowl tastes as good as the Cap’n Crunch (or the soup, salad or fruit) it contains, the world has moved one step closer to reducing plastic waste. And a startup in South Africa has made that a real possibility.

Munch Bowls, founded in 2014 by artist/entrepreneur Georgina de Kock, offers edible, biodegradable, single-use bowls and saucers made from wheat. The bowls have a shelf life of 15 months or longer and can hold any foods, including hot soups, for more than five hours, the company’s website states.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is helping save the world from plastic waste.

According to CNN, the edible bowls were originally made by hand but can now be mass-produced. “I was looking around and just noticing all the rubble that is created by us humans, and it really started irritating me,” de Kock told CNN. “Whatever you can put on a plate, you can put in the bowl. It’s the perfect size to hold in your hand.”

this photo shows a young woman eating food from an edible bowl

Edible bowls and plates from companies like Munch Bowls could help reduce single-use plastic waste created by restaurants that offer carryout foods.

Munch Bowls sells its edible bowls to hotels and companies in the hospitality industry in South Africa, Belgium, Singapore and Dubai. They sell at a wholesale price of 33 cents apiece, which is a little more expensive than plastic food containers, but, unlike the latter, the dinnerware can be eaten as part of the meal.

The Burn-In reports that de Kock recently took on a new partner and hopes to open six new production lines in 2020. Other items to be offered include coffee cups, spoons and in-flight meal containers.

Related: The world’s top plastic polluters say they will join the fight to reduce plastic waste.

Munch Bowls isn’t the first company to provide edible dinnerware. Polish entrepreneur Jerzy Wysocki, founder of Biotrem, invented a process to manufacture edible plates, bowls and cutlery out of wheat bran more than 15 years ago. Biotrem now makes about 15 million edible, biobased plates each year, along with cutlery made from fully biodegradable PLA bioplastic and wheat bran. In an interview with earlier this year, Wysocki said edible dinnerware can also be made out of corn, barley, oats, cassava and algae.

Biotrem has even gotten a boost in exposure from the new Netflix series, “The Witcher.” According to Biotrem’s Instagram page, the series, which is filmed in Poland, has featured the company’s edible plates and bowls in scenes that depict the series’ “witcher schools.”

Meanwhile, reports that researchers at Gdansk University of Technology has developed edible cutlery made with potato starch. One of those researchers, Professor Helena Janik, noted that these forks, spoons and knives can be safely eaten by sea creatures as well. “We are the only ones so far to have tested the biodegradability of our products on living aquatic organisms, and it looks like this cutlery is safe for the environment,” she said.

The demand for edible plates and bowls should rise dramatically when the European Union’s ban on plastic plates and cutlery goes into effect in 2021. And as production ramps up to meet the growing demand, pricing is expected to come down.

Forget Willy Wonka: ChocoSol Traders Is a Different Kind of Chocolate Factory

ChocoSol Traders isn’t your run-of-the-mill chocolate factory, and founder Michael Sacco is no Willy Wonka. But he does offer life lessons about living harmoniously with the environment through chocolate—except that it’s not your typical chocolate either.

Located in Toronto, ChocoSol Traders is a social enterprise that challenges the sweet tooth with bars made of artisanal dark chocolate that’s roasted, winnowed and stone-ground in-house. ChocoSol’s low-sugar chocolate bars and beverages feature sustainably grown and ethically sourced cacao as well as coffee, vanilla, coconut and other products from indigenous communities in southern Mexico’s Lacondon Jungle and Oaxacan mountains, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala.

“We are dedicated to offering a socially just, ecological and dignified alternative to the conventional approach to trade, food production and sharing,” according to the company’s mission statement. “This means an ongoing, reflective practice of working in partnership, collaboration and cooperation with growers and communities in the Americas.”

According to The Star, ChocoSol Traders chocolates “might seem unchocolatey to many—a healthful, spiritual, dark and bitter-tasting food and drink hailing from Mexico Profundo, the ancient Indigenous Mayan culture of Mexico.”

this photo depicts one of the ChocosSol Traders bikes used to transport and grind chocolate

ChocoSol Traders uses bicycles both to transport its display products to farmers markets and to grind its artisanal chocolate made from ethically sourced ingredients.

Sold online and in farmers markets around Toronto, ChocoSol’s products are, in fact, marketed as foods rather than candy. And in keeping with the company’s environmentally friendly mission, its “chocolistas” use bicycles to grind their chocolate and to power the blenders that mix their chocolate drinks.

As world music website Uma Nota reports, Sacco came up with the idea for ChocoSol Traders while installing a solar concentrator in an indigenous village in southern Mexico. There, a village elder and medicine woman introduced him to her traditional handmade chocolate and locally grown cacao beans. “Upon tasting this ancient form of rustic chocolate with its strong flavors and medicinal bitter kick, Michael, like most northerners, had his expectations blown out of the water, expecting the chocolate to be smooth like a Hershey bar,” said ChocoSol Traders co-owner Mathieu McFadden. “But what he did was scrape the surface of an ancient, beautiful and sacred tradition.”

Before relocating to Toronto, Sacco launched his own chocolate business in Mexico, selling his products in farmers markets around the region. He started out grinding the chocolate by hand but later switched to bicycle-powered grinders. “Bicycles are one of the few human-scale tools that are present and can be repaired everywhere on the planet,” McFadden told Uma Nota. “ChocoSol works with artisanal scale tools as opposed to machines, which displace the workers and disconnect them from the process.”

this photo shows a child learning how to use a ChocoSol Traders bike.

A young visitor learns how to grind ChocoSol Traders chocolate with a bicycle.

Uma Nota describes ChocoSol Traders as “a model in social enterprise and in fusing traditional food production approaches with modern applications. They still work directly with various indigenous farmers who specialize in Mayan forest garden techniques, which means organic agriculture drawing on ancient varieties of fruit trees, edible plants and sustainable goods like cacao, coffee, vanilla and cinnamon, which can be traded with ChocoSol and neighboring communities.”

But is the rest of the world ready for healthy chocolate that tastes nothing like your classic Dove bar? Apparently so. ChocoSol’s Jaguar Pure bar, featuring 75 percent albino cacao from the ancient forest gardens of Mexico, won a gold and bronze medal in the International Chocolate Awards Americas Competition last summer, while its Swirl and Crunch bars claimed the bronze.

IKEA Says Goodbye to Single-Use Plastics on Jan. 1, 2020

Single-use plastic will be a relic of the past for IKEA by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of a pledge the home furnishings giant made more than two years ago.

The Swedish retailer vowed in June 2018 to eliminate single-use plastics from its line of home furnishings and from its restaurants, cafes and bistros worldwide by the start of 2020. It also pledged that all plastics used in its home furnishings will be based on renewable or recycled materials by 2030. It’s all part of the company’s sustainability strategy, dubbed People and Planet Positive.

In addition to getting rid of all single-use plastic by 2020, IKEA has also pledged to use only plastics made from recyclable and renewable materials in its home furnishings by 2030.

“We need to make … all of our disposables better for both people and the planet,” the company said in a video that introduced its more sustainable and disposable food containers. These products are “much more in tune with Mother Nature,” including carryout food containers made out of paper from sustainably managed forests and cane sugar.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is saving the world from plastic waste.

Plastic forks, spoons and knives will be made from responsibly sourced wood, while plastic straws will be replaced by sustainable straws featuring paper from sustainably managed forests.

IKEA will also stop selling single-use plastic and plastic-coated products such as straws, plates, cups, freezer bags and garbage bags. Additionally, according to CNN, IKEA is aiming to purchase 100% renewable energy by 2020 and to make offer zero-emission home delivery by 2025. The company has invested $2 billion in renewable-energy projects that will include 416 wind turbines. And as of 2018, it had already installed about 750,000 solar panels on IKEA buildings.

As the BBC reported, IKEA also plans to offer more non-meat meals and snacks in its restaurants.

“Through our size and reach, we have the opportunity to inspire and enable more than 1 billion people to live better lives, within the limits of the planet,” Torbjorn Loof, the CEO of Inter IKEA Group, said. “We are committed to taking the lead, working together with everyone—from raw material suppliers all the way to our customers and partners.”

Related: The world’s top plastic polluters say they will join the fight to reduce plastic waste