A geologist and an insurance specialist walk into a bar… And save the world? Join me today on 20 Minutes in Lockdown as I interview Wendy Nystrom, who teaches companies around the world how to survive and save the planet by appealing to the beancounter in all of us. Sound boring? That’s what I thought, too. Turns out, it’s really fascinating!
“So let’s go back to stage one, make something that is truly biodegradable or reusable… a whole rethinking of how we approach things. Let’s not build it the way we used to, let’s think of new ways to build things”– Wendy Nystrom
And we’re live on July 20, 2020! Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of 20 minutes in lockdown. My name is Peter Shankman, happy Monday. I hope you had a lovely weekend. I am here, uh, today in New York city where it is approaching a hundred degrees. Some bullshit, but, um, my guests, uh, was kind enough to tell me that, Oh, well, I’m in LA, the weather is always perfect here, so it’s fine. No, it’s not fine. Say hi to Wendy Nystrom. I’ve known Wendy, since like the beginning of time; we went to college together, we went to Boston University and I, well, I wound up doing stuff with journalism, Wendy wound up discovering rocks, and somehow it led from rocks to insurance and I’m pretty sure that the combination of rocks and insurance is going to save the world. And it sounds crazy, but she’s going to tell you how, how are you, Wendy?
I’m well, how are you doing? And yes, the weather’s perfect here. I’m sorry? Your always in LA go ahead and tell us what’s up. Uh, so yeah, in LA and I did study rocks, um, got my bachelors and masters from BU, got in geology and I thought, what on earth am I going to do with this? So I worked as an environmental consultant where I learned about contamination and pollution, which is a big deal when you start thinking about how all of that affected the climate and working for 20 years in insurance, I studied that there’s this correlation of climate change and insurance, and it’s actually an intersection between the two where we have these pollutants going into the atmosphere. These are causing severe storms, wildfires, human health, and hazard. And then all of a sudden, you know, with these massive storms, 2018 alone in wildfires we had $24 billion in losses. Yeah. Insurance carriers are pulling out, um, it’s too expensive. They’re not able to cover these kinds of coverages. So what’s happening now is we’re trying to find this new intersection between how climate change and insurance can work together.
And when people say climate change, it’s like, is it fire? Is it flood? Is it drought? Which one is it? So that’s where where, that’s where we are.
Do you think that, that companies, people, companies specifically don’t really care about climate change enough yet because they don’t really see how it relates specifically to money?
So I would have said yes, five years ago, but all of a sudden people that are really hyper focused in on how our climate is changing with the lockdown that we’ve had we have seen a dramatic decrease in, um, air pollution, just because people aren’t driving as much. Um, so that’s actually something visual, something we can actually see that happening, see that change actively. So no companies are really paying attention now and with the whole ESG movement, which is the environmental social governance that people are reporting on up until a year ago, people kind of faked and kind of said, we’re going to do all these great things. And unfortunately, a lot of management consulting firms, organizations, um, Bloomberg foundation, they’re focusing in like, it’s great that you have these ideas and plans. But let’s actually make that happen. Let’s actually follow through on what you’re going to say. So you say you’re going to be, you know, fossil fuel reduction by 2030. How are you going to do it? So that’s where we are currently as now, you know, you said you’re going to do all these great things. How are you going to do it?
You mentioned something interesting. You said that during the lockdown, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in air pollution and things like that. Um, does that, does that speak to the fact that perhaps it is more about the choices that we make as human beings and, and less maybe about the choices that companies make as a whole, or is it still, you know, like we can recycle the, the plastic bottles we drink from the, the, the, you know, the clubs, soda bottles from here to Sunday. Right. But if, you know, company XYZ is still throwing stuff into the atmosphere, um, then it feels like what we do really doesn’t matter.
Right. So is it more, what’s the, what’s the, the general thinking right now on what can people do versus what can companies do and who should be doing more?
So that’s where the whole framework of the circular economy is coming from. So rather than saying, we can take our plastic and recycle it. We can’t really anymore.
We can’t send it off to anybody. Nobody will take it. And it’s not really recyclable anyway. So why do we even make the plastic to begin with. So let’s go back to stage one, make something that is truly biodegradable or reusable. Maybe we go back to using glass again, there’s actually a company called Terra cycle and they put good, you know, into reusable containers.
They’re primarily, I’m in Paris and New York right now, but they’re expanding into the West and just think about when you get your milk, it’s going to come in a glass jar. You want to get your cereal? It’s going to come in a container. And it’s all shipped back. They clean it, they wash it there, you know, they refill it and they send it back to you again.
So it’s kind of like the milkman, but on steroids. So, yeah. So everyone’s got to rethink the beginning. So with companies, it’s not just, okay, so let’s cut back on fossil fuels. How about not using fossil fuels? So let’s think of something else let’s rebuild the way we build our AC system. Let’s rebuild it the way we have our entire office structure to let natural light in, so you don’t need lights. Um, there’s an entire industry with the whole LEED design. Of, you know, air conditioning systems coming from the floor rather than feeling, because if you think the way that air flow works, you’re pushing cold air down, but it’s warming as it goes. So it pushes harder and harder, harder to cool. It, same with heat, heat rises. So you’re pushing it harder and her to her to try to get it down there. If you have it from the floor, you’re actually getting to the person that you need to cool or heat during the day. So it’s just a whole rethinking of how we approach things. Let’s not build it the way we used to let’s think of new ways to build things.
How come it seems like, well, it doesn’t seem like it. How come it is, how come it is that a different political administrations have different agendas for these things? Like, uh, everything I see lately is that is that we are basically doing the opposite of everything you’ve just said. Uh, in this country and we’re making it, the governments make it easier to do the opposite of everything you’ve just said, and, uh, w who benefits from that?
Lobbyists, people who are financially invested in fossil fuels and coal mines, you have generations of miners. And how do you tell somebody that the one thing you know how to do- you can’t do it anymore. So what needs to be done is education and training in other fields.
So you’re taking, you can take a population and say, we’re going to train you how to use your current knowledge and translate it into, you know, biomethane, gas, reclamation, windmills, solar panels. I believe it’s the international brotherhood of electrical workers actually has somebody on staff that focuses on that.
Interesting. Yeah. So there, you know, again, education. I’m a huge proponent of education. The more you talk to people, the more you explain to them, this is how we can try to fix. LinkedIn’s not gonna be overnight. We do need to act quickly cause we’re kind of in a dire situation, but we do just the more you talk about it and bring it out in the open, people get more comfortable with that because it is kind of scary.
Spencer has a good question: How do you convince companies that the short term costs of reassessing? It says quote, converting to new systems is a benefit longterm. And I’ll add to that, you know, uh, right now the, uh, You know, every everything is done for the shareholders, for the shareholders, for the shareholders, right. Fiduciary responsibility, I think, would say that shareholders need to be made whole the next quarter. But in fact, you know, real fiduciary responsibility, he’s making them whole the next quarter century. So, so how do we do that? How do we convince these companies to the short term costs? You know, taking a 7 cents a share profit versus 8 cents a share, right; is actually okay.
And that all comes down to, um, kind of rethinking the way the shareholder stakeholder who’s being affected. It also runs into an environmental justice, but one of the things with renewable energy up to five, ten years ago, it was extraordinarily expensive to install. Those costs have plummeted, but installation cost of solar has gone down last three years dramatically.
Just better technology, more access to materials, more people are doing it. So it’s not nearly as expensive as it used to be and in the long run the savings overall in the future. And it’s not just installing solar panel, it’s completely redoing a way a building is done again, the natural light, the way the heating cooling system is done; if people just take it as a whole encompassing situation, you would actually see more profits on the end. And it would, it wouldn’t be immediate those first couple of years- and there are plenty of analysis that you can look at- I don’t have them handy right now, but you can’t see that and just see what your initial cost will be high.
But you will make that money back within five to 10 years. So you do have to think longer term.
And so what’s still holding the companies back?
Just, uh, well, not so much anymore. A lot of companies are kind of pushing forward. They’re realizing that we need to do this and act quickly. All of Europe is pretty much ahead of us right now. America is still a little bit behind, but we are catching up and it’s just, again, education telling people, explaining to them that this is possible. It’s not something scary. We don’t understand that, so we’re not going to do it. But then if you have the data and here in California, so Cal Edison will go in and do it of your building of your property, of your commercial space and say, you can do it, all these things to save energy and we’ll even tell you how the cost to put in a solar panel and they’ll figure it out for you. So you actually have partnerships with these large corporations that will work with you.
I read an article, an interesting article in, I think it was the Atlantic last month about a guy who went to the bottom of the, of the world. He went to the bottom of the Marianas Trench um, uh, several, several months ago. And, um, one of the first things he saw that was plastic. Right. There’s never been anything there before. And the first thing is always, you know, no, no humans are in there. The first thing is that like a plastic bag or something, um, are we, have we passed the breaking point? Have we passed the tipping point in terms of getting, uh, uh, plastics out of our system or, you know, they were saying now that, that, that almost every single fish in the world has microplastics inside of it and they can’t judge how much, because they can’t find me fish. That don’t have them.
It’s interesting. You bring up microplastics. There was a great paper written by a woman. Um, I’m blanking on her name, but it’s through the UN and she, and I discussed it before she wrote it. And I kind of explained how the insurance aspect works, but the whole study with microplastics and Boston University did a great paper on it as well. There’s microplastics now in seaweed and fish, but I talked to a woman who was with the department of, um, department of water and power in Los Angeles about this. And I said, you know what, the microplastics and fish microplastics in our water supply now in the seaweed. And she said, we breathe in microplastics every single day because the clothing we wear is plastic. And I had never considered that. I’d never even thought about that. I mean, I try to focus on just wearing cotton. That’s a whole nother issue with the cotton industry and, um, soil depth, uh, depreciation, but we are exposed to it constantly. So we don’t know the longterm health effects because no one’s been affected yet.
It doesn’t mean we should not stop it. We should absolutely stop it and Marianas Trench are the deepest point in Europe. And the fact that plastic is something that far down below, and we also have the garbage islands in the Pacific. I think there are three or four of them now. Um, it’s not that I don’t want to sound negative and say we’re past the tipping point and there’s no hope. There’s always hope. We just need to work quickly. And we need to stop using plastic bottles. I mean, that’s the simplest thing you could do is just buy a reusable water bottle. And there’s no reason to buy, tap water in a bottle. It’s it’s the standards are less than what your drinking water is, so there’s, there’s really no point in carrying that. And it’s just little steps. I always tell people every little step helps, you know, no shaming, no belittling, somebody, no yelling at people. Just every little bit can help and let’s try to move things forward. And the more you educate, the more you talk.
I remember an episode of Mad Men. I don’t know why this popped in my head, uh, probably season two or something where Don Draper takes his family up for a, um, a drive in his new car finishes at the end and he tosses this just lifts up the blanket and tosses all the refuse, all the trash just goes flying. And it really, really stuck with me because we don’t see that as much anymore. Um, you know, it’s sort of been like, like society doesn’t appreciate garbage. Uh, it doesn’t appreciate us leaving our garbage anywhere. Um, so we’ve gotten to that point, right? So do we have to make, basically, if you remember, in, in, in college at a little bit beyond; smoking wasn’t.. we knew it was bad for us, but it wasn’t, societaly shameful.
No, we all did it right? Because it was healthy, right! But it wasn’t, it wasn’t bad for it. It wasn’t, it wasn’t, societaly shameful. We all did it. And so then over the last 20 years, we’ve seen that shift where it’s no longer acceptable. Right. If you smoke, you’re obviously less intelligent, less informed, right? Um, we’ve started associating smoking with, with, with, uh, different type different parts of the country type thing. Right. So. Are we going to get to a point, do you think it has to do it’s psychological? Do you think we’re getting to a point where we say the same thing from a mental perspective, like, Oh God, he’s using renewable plastic.
He must not be, uh, or, you know, he’s using another glass bottle, he must not be that smart. And are we going to see that, that? Because shaming for whatever it is, tends to work.
Yeah. I mean, I don’t like shaming cause, um, I don’t like making other people feel bad, but there does have to be some responsibility with your actions and what you’re doing. And there isn’t such, I mean, people say there’s, you know, when they say recyclable plastic or compostable plastic, most of the plastic that they claim is compostable actually has to be heated to a certain temperature before it can be composted. That being said, you’re heating something. You’re creating greenhouse gases, so this is a bad thing. There are many companies nowadays that are making a bio-plastics are completely plant-based it can’t, you can throw it in your backyard and it will decompose. That’s what we need to focus on. But the shaming go ahead. No, please. The shaming aspect. I personally, I don’t like aggressiveness and you’ve known me long enough. I I’m a big mush. I don’t like people yelling and screaming and fighting. I try to talk to people in a reasonable manner until of course I get pushed to that over the edge, and you’ve seen it where, you know, stand back, but I try to keep it calm and educate and just teach as much as possible. That’s where I’m coming from.
Last question, who do you think is going to lead us out of this? Is it going to be industry? Is it going to be the person? I can’t remember her. Um, the, the, the 14 year old, um, Greta is, yeah, somebody, Greta Thunberg, is going to be, it’s going to be, industry is going to be the next generation of kids. It’s certainly not going to be old white guys. Right. So who’s going to do it.
I mean, there are some old white guys that are doing quite a bit, so let’s not dismiss them completely, not all the old, however, I think as a collaboration of everybody, So Greta Thunberg has actually brought it to people’s attention and mind you, a lot of the shaming, the yelling, um, the saying, how dare you. That’s not my particular style, but it was effective. It got people talking! Industry is now responding. You know, you’re having Mike Bloomberg, the Bloomberg foundation, they are focusing on that heavily. So there’s somebody who’s very prominent, very, you know, out there and they’re supporting it, they’re moving it forward and the more people are doing this, they say, well, I should do that too. And it’s also that sort of. Um, being responsible. It’s not shaming. It’s more of saying, well, I guess I should do this too, because I don’t want to be on the outside looking in and we have more technology, we have more people thinking about it. Um, that’s probably the most important factors you have more of the younger generation really focusing on modular technology instead of throwing away your washing machine because one part’s broken. Take out that one part, replace it, put it back in. You don’t have to get rid of the whole thing. So it’s just a way that we’re rethinking the whole thing.
Last point. Do you think we are where you thought we’d be 20 years ago or are we behind or ahead?
Oh, I think we’re behind. I mean, I’m a kid from the seventies and, you know, we, there was a lot of garbage, I mean, I was actually born in California. Um, and my mom would tell me, I didn’t. I think you probably didn’t know that, yeah, I was born in Pasadena, you know, and there, the air quality was so bad that the police would come around and say, you know, children and elderly had to be inside. So we have improved and yes, it should loss. It took regulation. It took the EPA to have the air quality act passed and all the water quality PR passed California was head of it and sort of the rest of the country followed. We’re destroying those very laws right now, which is extremely troublesome to me. And I simply hope that, um, I know that the NRDC. Um, national resource defense council. They are assuming the pants off the administration for trying to do this and they’re winning.
So they.. you don’t hear about that a lot, you only hear about the laws being dis-embowled, you know, you don’t hear about them winning.
It’s not, I mean, it’s a slow process. It’s, you know, first of all, you know, the administration immediately hacks it and says, we’re stopping this. So then the lawsuits get filed. The litigation gets started so little by little. They’re pulling them back, but it’s slow and it’s not a hundred percent either. And unfortunately, um, I just really hope that either the current administration wakes up to this fact and realizes we’re doing more harm than good, or we have a new administration come in and fix the situation.
I think it’s going to be the second, unfortunately I don’t, I don’t think that the current administration sees any reason to change. Uh, Spencer has a last question, which actually is a good one. So I’ll leave that. Uh, if you were, if you had the white house’s ear or let’s, let’s say the new, the new administration comes in, what would be the first policy change or implementation you would lobby or push for?
Um, I’ve seen, I have to go with the new administration. I don’t think I would get much of an audience with who’s currently there. Um, the very first thing, jeez. Um, I would say transportation right now is a huge issue. Um, most greenhouse gases are admitted by semi trucks, trucks. So during the lockdown, if you went out on the street and drove anywhere, which it was you and five other cars, there were trucks everywhere, semis, cause we have to transport our goods and you have to get our things from point a to point B. That’s why I feel like companies like Hyperloop and there are several Hyperloop companies out there; one of them is just going to hopefully focus on transporting goods where it’s, you know, electric, magnetic, rail, whatever they want to use and they just get transported that way. Um, but we have to get the trucks off the road. Um, that’s what is, you know, there’s so many, I can’t pick one. I honestly can’t pick one. Um, but I think you start with what’s reasonable and easy and work your way from there.
That’s a good answer as anything we’re going to have you back when you, this was great. Thank you. How do people find you?
How do people find me? Um, so my email is Nystrom Wendy at Gmail. NystromWendy@gmail.com So it’s last name, first name I’m on LinkedIn. That’s easy. I’m all over LinkedIn. And, um, you know, I guess through you, you can always put people in touch with me, so yeah. Very cool, Wendy. Thanks so much for taking the time today!
Guys, 20 minutes locked down. Hope you enjoyed it. If you like it, send me money. No, I’m just kidding, you don’t have do that, but what you can do, actually, if you want to, is you could support my Ironman training at shankman.com/ironman, I am training for Kona in February and thanks thanks for the lockdown I am way behind in my fundraising, so shankman.com/ironman would be, would be awesome. Thank you, Wendy. We will have you back. I think later this week we have another broadcast and Wendy we’ll have you back on soon. Have a great day & stay cool. If you’re on. If you’re in the Northeast where there’s currently a heat waves, checking your neighbor, checking your neighbors, especially if they’re elderly, find out if they need anything help now. Alright, so you guys see you soon!