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[1THING] Blog: Archive for October, 2016

[ Good Jobs in the Climate-Friendly Economy ]

Good Jobs in the Climate-Friendly Economy


PEO ACWA / Flickr

 Adapted from the Labor Network for Sustainability Report “Just Transition” – Just What Is It?

We are well into the greatest economic transition ever experienced — one that will dwarf all that came before. Creating a carbon-neutral economy will require us to retool all sectors of our economy, from manufacturing, transportation, and health care to waste management, communications, energy, and more.

Frontline communities — including workers and all those threatened or already devastated by climate change and the fossil fuel economy — must be leaders in this fight. A “just transition” is one that protects and prioritizes communities and workers’ livelihoods as we build this climate-friendly economy together.

We know that coal power is a significant driver of climate change, for instance. How can we ensure that the people who work for coal companies have good jobs in the clean economy of the future?

The Eastern Kentucky Clean Energy Collaborative has created an innovative and inspiring model.

A significant portion of electricity in eastern Kentucky is provided by the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC), a rural electric co-op serving eighty-seven counties. In 2005, EKPC got the go-ahead to build a coal plant in Clark County.

In 2009, a public interest coalition, including the Sierra Club, contested the decision. They argued that changes in energy demand and the availability of renewables made the plant unnecessary.

The coalition also knew that the issue of jobs and economic impacts would be crucial in impoverished eastern Kentucky. So they commissioned a study showing that far more jobs would be created and electric rates would be lower if EKPC invested instead in energy efficiency, weatherization, hydropower, and wind power.

The report spawned lots of positive public discussion. Community leaders shared educational materials, held meetings and hearings, and met with EKPC board members to encourage them to support the alternative to the coal plant.

About a year later, in November 2010, EKPC agreed to immediately halt plans to build the coal plant.

Even more remarkably, EKPC committed $125,000 toward a collaboration between its member co-ops and public interest groups to evaluate and recommend new energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy options in Kentucky. The Clean Energy Collaborative meets quarterly and comprises a wide range of partners, including the EKPC and its member co-ops, the public interest coalition members, and housing and economic development groups.

In late 2016, Kentuckians reached another milestone with the launch of the Empower Kentucky Summit. The event brought together renewable energy and energy efficiency professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, social justice advocates, electric cooperatives, and many more. Here was a roadmap for the future, from the very heart of coal country.

We can build an economy that saves the climate, creates good jobs, and contributes to community well-being. Labor and justice advocates, environmental organizations and others can come together for a common vision. A just transition is within reach if we work together.


[ A Staggering Number of the World’s Children Are Breathing Toxic Air ]

Two billion children—more than a quarter of the world’s population—are exposed to air pollution at levels the World Health Organization considers “a long term hazard,” according to a new report from UNICEF. Using satellite imagery, UNICEF identified geographic areas where ultrafine particulate matter surpassed the WHO’s limits and found that 300 million children, mostly in low- and middle-income nations, breathe air pollution at “toxic” levels—or six times higher than international limits.

“Even though the toxic cocktail of chemicals in air pollution is largely invisible to the naked eye, these elements are deadly and affect children’s health and well-being,” the study’s authors wrote.

Looking at the causes of air pollution globally, the authors focused on rapidly industrializing countries, where urban children grow up near factories that release toxic levels of pollutants into the atmosphere along with ever-increasing levels of automobile exhaust. But industrialization wasn’t the only culprit. In rural areas, children’s exposure begins at home, where families burn wood and agricultural waste for cooking and heating. The highest levels were found in Asian and African countries, according to UNICEF’s analysis:

Courtesy of UNICEF

Air pollution is linked with 1 out of every 8 deaths globally. It has long been known to cause or exacerbate a range of respiratory issues, with some research even linking it to neurodegenerative diseases. According to UNICEF, it puts kids at increased risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, and other health problems. “Children are uniquely vulnerable,” the authors wrote in the report. Their respiratory tracts are more permeable than those of adults, and they breathe twice as fast. Because their lungs and trachea are smaller, they’re more apt to develop blockages, while ongoing exposure to pollutants reduces their lung capacity. And children’s less-developed immune systems allow respiratory infections to take hold more easily, leading 500,000 children to die of pneumonia each year for reasons directly linked to the quality of their air. Some studies have even found that exposure to air pollution can impair physical and cognitive development.

To combat these conditions, the UNICEF authors called on communities to build homes with better ventilation and insulation, which would allow them to burn less fuel. Families, they said, might choose cleaner cookstoves and keep tobacco smoke out of their homes. The authors recommended that local governments focus on air pollution during urban-planning projects by keeping factories and power plants far from schools and playgrounds, improving public transportation, and providing for safer waste disposal systems. For national governments, the course of action was clear: reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Key to all of this, of course, is education and investment—for parents, communities, and local governments to become aware of the effects of air pollution and take what steps they can to mitigate it.

“Protecting children from air pollution is not only in their best interests,” Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director, wrote in an introduction to the report. “It is also in the best interests of their societies—a benefit realized in reduced health costs, in increased productivity, in a cleaner, safer environment, and thus, in more sustainable development.”


[ The New York Times Cuts Through the Hype on GMOs ]

Genetically modified seeds emerged in the mid-1990s and have since conquered million of acres of US farmland. Today, upwards of 80 percent of corn, soybean, and cotton acreage are planted with crops engineered to withstand herbicides and/or insects, as have large portions of our sugar beet and alfalfa crops. Beyond the massive marketing triumph and financial success of companies like Monsanto and Syngenta—which sell both the seeds and the related herbicides—what has the industry achieved in terms of public benefits?

Have they helped farmers churn out more food per acre and reduce pesticides, as the industry has long claimed? Or, as some of their more extreme critics suggest, are they subtly poisoning the food supply?

In Sunday’s New York Times, investigative journalist Danny Hakim has an elegant, in-depth piece digging beneath considerable industry hype to examine that question. His conclusion: while “fears that they are unsafe to eat” are  largely unsubstantiated, “genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.”

To reach that conclusion, Hakim compared US yields of crops like corn and sugar beets with the same crops grown in Europe (charts here), where GMOs aren’t widely used. He also compared pesticide-use rates. The result: “The United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields—food per acre—when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany.” The result, he notes, is consistent with a recent National Academy of Sciences report that found that “there was little evidence that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.”

Shorter: Europe essentially rejected GMOs, and paid no price for it.

For pesticides, the performance has been mixed, but not exactly an affirmation GMO crops’ 20-year run.

One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage—65 percent—and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

The article has predictably generated a storm of criticism from industry enthusiasts. Hakim answered some of them in a Tweetstorm Sunday morning (start here). I’ll have more to say about it later this week. In the meantime, as someone who has been teasing out this story for a decade, it’s refreshing to see the topic covered with such precision and clarity in the paper of record.


[ Think Bats Are Creepy? Well, Check Out These Adorable Photos. ]

Lots of people think bats are downright frightening. After all, they do seem to check all the creepiness boxes: They come out at night; they live in dark, scary places; they communicate via high-pitch screeching.

Now multiply that by 10.

Flying foxes, also commonly known as fruit bats, are the largest flying mammal. Their wingspans stretch up to five feet. They can weigh more than two pounds and eat three times their body weight in nectar in just one night. Just check out this video from National Geographic:

With Halloween fast approaching, bats are the subject on this week’s episode of Inquiring Minds podcast. Host Indre Vikontas talks with bat expert and educator Merlin Tuttle about these somewhat cuddly creatures that often get a bad rap. “We invariably fear most what we understand least,” he says. And it turns out that we actually have a lot to thank bats for: These long-distance migrators pollinate a lot of the fruit we eat.

Tuttle, whose recent book is called The Secret Lives of Bats, has been fascinated with all kinds of bats ever since a classmate brought one for show-and-tell way back in the fourth grade. He started exploring caves near his home in Tennessee to learn more and ended up devoting his life to bat conservation. Tuttle has photographed more than 300 species on every continent where they reside.

Click above to hear Tuttle as he tells his best bat tales, explains his most interesting findings, and recounts how his childhood fascination led to strange friendships with shot-gun-toting Tennessee moonshiners.

And while you’re listening, check out these amazing photos from Tuttle’s close-up collection:

A juvenile male Wrinkle-faced bat from Trinidad

A lesser long-nosed bat pollinating saguaro cactus in Mexico

Foot of Rickett’s Big-footed Myotis

A pallid bat catching a giant desert centipede in Arizona

Minor epauletted bat from Kenya


[ 2 ways to help us meet the Paris climate goals ]

With the right policies and partnerships in place we may even cut emissions ahead of schedule.


[ This Study Made Me Change My Mind on Soda Taxes ]

The case for a soda tax—on the ballot Nov. 8 in San Francisco, Oakland, and Boulder, and promoted globally by the World Health Organization—just got stronger.

In a new peer-reviewed study, Swedish researchers tracked the dietary choices and health outcomes of a group of more than 2,800 adults over several years, adjusting their results for a range of factors like age, gender, family history of diabetes, and caloric intake. They found that people who drink 400 milliliters of soda or more—that’s 13.5 ounces, just a bit more than a standard 12-oz. US serving—are 2.4 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as those who did not drink these beverages. And people who drink 1,000 milliliters (33.8 oz, less then three US servings) had a 10 times a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

As the authors note, these findings are the latest in a massive weight of research (see here, here, and here , for example) tying sugary drink consumption to diabetes.

And get this: They found roughly equal results for people who drink Big Soda’s preferred alternative to sugar-laced beverages—artificially sweetened ones. That conclusion bolsters a rapidly expanding literature indicting “diet” soda, which I go into here and here.

Meanwhile, the industry has launched a robust effort to beat back efforts to impose soda taxes. Vox recently calculated that Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and their industry group, the American Beverage Association, have spent a combined $30.8 million to campaign against ballot initiatives in US cities this year. The American Beverage Association has even enlisted progressive hero Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in its efforts to battle tax fights in San Francisco and Oakland:

While campaigning against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year, Sanders came out against a proposed soda tax in Philadelphia, which ended up being enacted. In the months since, though, he has changed his stance, and recently rebuked the ABA for using him in advertisements.

Meanwhile, Clinton, who publicly supported the Philadelphia tax, was privately pressured by Coca-Cola execs to tamp down her support for such measures, trove of leaked emails published by the group DC Leaks suggests. As Politico notes, the email correspondence between Coca-Cola officials and campaign insiders “reveals the deep connections the soda giant enjoys in Hillary-land at multiple levels, which the company leaned on to urge Clinton to walk back her support for soda taxes last April.”

Another email dump, analyzed here by the group Ninjas for Health, shows Coca-Cola execs strategizing ways to defeat soda taxes from Oakland and Philadelphia to the United Kingdom, France, Israel, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

Like Bernie Sanders, I’ve long been ambivalent on soda taxes, because I’m allergic to any measure that falls most heavily on the pocketbooks of low-income people. But the public health case against soda has gotten so strong that I’m convinced. After all, taxes must really be an effective tool for turning people away from soda, or the industry wouldn’t be fighting them so hard, on so many fronts.


[ This Major City’s Drinking Water Was Fine. Then Came the Private Water Company. ]

This summer, 81,000 homes in Pittsburgh received a worrisome letter about their water. The local utility “has found elevated levels of lead in tap water samples in some homes,” it said. Seventeen percent of samples had high levels of the metal, which can cause “serious health problems.”

The situation was bad enough to attract the attention of Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped exposed the Flint water crisis. “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint,” he said in an interview with local TV station WPXI.

This was surprising because until this year, Pittsburgh’s lead levels had always been normal. So what happened?

First, a bit of background: In 2012, the city faced a dilemma. Though it had clean water, its century-old water system desperately needed repair. And its utility, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, was plagued by administrative problems. Residents complained of bad customer service and unfair fees. And after a series of poor financial decisions in the 2000s, PWSA was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

Pittsburgh isn’t alone: Public utilities around the country are trying to make ends meet with dwindling public funding and increasingly outdated infrastructure. Many, like Pittsburgh, turn to private management companies to help out.

Pittsburgh’s utility called in Veolia, a Paris-based company that consults with utilities, promising “customized, cost-effective solutions that reflect best practices, environmental protection and a better quality of life.” Veolia consults or manages water, waste, and energy systems in 530 cities in North America, with recent contracts in New York City, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. Last year, the company, which operates in 68 countries, brought in about $27 billion in revenue.

Pittsburgh hired Veolia to manage day-to-day operations and provide an interim executive team, helping the utility run more efficiently and save precious public dollars. Under the terms of the contract, Veolia would keep roughly half of every dollar the utility saved under its guidance.

Under the leadership of Jim Good, a Veolia executive serving as interim director, PWSA began making sweeping changes—and they seemed to be working: Within a year, call waiting time for concerned customers dropped by 50 percent. Thanks to new fees for commercial buildings, new customers, and other assorted changes, the utility saved $2 million.

According to a 2013 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Veolia changed PWSA’s culture, too: Instead of traditional top-heavy management, Good checked in with employees over pizza and burgers every week. At a staff barbecue in 2012, “I told them that we were there to work with the employees as their partners,” he later told the Post-Gazette. “I provided assurances that there wouldn’t be any layoffs and that together we could achieve anything.”

But by the end of 2015, the utility had laid off or fired 23 people—including the safety and water quality managers, and the heads of finance and engineering, according to documents obtained through a Right to Know request. The PWSA laboratory staff, which was responsible for testing water quality throughout the 100,000-customer system, was cut in half. Stanley States, a water quality director with 36 years of experience at the utility (employees referred to him as “Dr. Water”) was transferred to an office-based job in the research department. Frustrated with the move, he retired.

Good maintains that not all staffing decisions were made by Veolia, which was in a consulting rather than management role when the layoffs occurred. Any suggested staffing changes had to be approved by the board, he said.

As the lab staff shrank, PWSA made major changes to its water treatment system. For decades, the city had been adding soda ash—a chemical similar to baking soda—to its water to prevent the pipes, many of which are lead, from corroding and leaching into the water. (Lack of corrosion controls caused lead to leach into the water in Flint, Michigan.) In 2014, PWSA hastily replaced soda ash with another cheaper corrosion control treatment, caustic soda. Such a change typically requires a lengthy testing and authorization process with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, but the DEP was never informed of the change. Nearly two years later, as news spread about the disaster in Flint, the utility switched back to soda ash.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto puts the blame for the treatment change squarely on Veolia, saying the company never informed the utility’s board or the city. Veolia denies responsibility for the change, saying it “did not and would not prioritize cost savings ahead of effective corrosion control methods or water quality.”

What is certain is that this spring, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection cited the utility for breaking state law and ordered immediate lead testing.

Tests this summer—the first since 2013—found that the city’s lead levels had crept up and, for the first time on record, exceed federal standards. Seventeen percent of homes had levels above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

Many suspect that the change in water treatment chemicals led to the jump in lead levels; the city is currently conducting an internal investigation into the matter.

Stanley States, the former water quality director, believes the staff cuts almost certainly played a role. Lead levels first crept up in 2013 due to a previous change in treatment chemicals, though they didn’t exceed federal standards. But without a fully-staffed lab, says States, the matter wasn’t addressed. “They cut our laboratory in half,” he said. “We would have been researching like crazy this lead corrosion problem to see how to correct it.”

But Pittsburgh citizens’ complaints about Pittsburgh’s water goes beyond quality—it’s also extraordinarily expensive. In 2013, a year after Veolia was hired, the water board approved a 20 percent rate increase over four years; by 2017, the average residential water bill will be $50 per month—triple the average Midwest cost, according to The Guardian.

Soon after, customers began complaining that their bills were coming erratically and appeared to charge for water residents hadn’t used. One vacant property owner was charged for using 132,000 gallons of water in one month—that’s about how much a family of four uses in a year. “You don’t know if it’s going to come in, whether it’s late or not, how much it will be, a Pittsburgh retiree told Truthout. “Then you get it and there’s a late charge.”

In May of 2015, a group of Pittsburgh customers filed a class-action lawsuit against the utility, Veolia North America Water, and the accounting company keeping track of PWSA bills, alleging that new water meter readers installed in 2013 “catastrophically failed and customers have received grossly inaccurate and at times outrageously high bills”—including increases of nearly 600 percent. “PWSA is acutely aware that the billings are wrong but do not hesitate for a moment to issue ‘shut off’ notices and then arbitrarily turn off water service,” read the complaint. PWSA and Veolia declined to respond to the allegations.

Last December, facing the class-action lawsuit, a state citation for changing corrosion controls, and mounting debt, Pittsburgh terminated its contract with Veolia. All told, PWSA had paid Veolia $11 miillion over the course of the contract.

Earlier this month, the utility announced it was suing the company. According to a press release, Veolia “grossly mismanaged PWSA’s operations, abused its positions of special trust and confidence, and misled and deceived PWSA as part of its efforts to maximize profits for itself to the unfair detriment of PWSA and its customers.”

Pittsburgh isn’t the first municipality to sue Veolia this year. In April, Massachusetts officials sued Veolia, which was managing Plymouth’s sewage treatment facility, for allowing 10 million gallons of untreated sewage to spill in and around the town’s harbor last winter.

Two months later, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Veolia with fraud and negligence for failing to discover Flint’s enduring lead contamination problem after the city hired the company in 2015 to consult on water quality.

“Veolia stated that the water, quote, was safe,” said Schuette to NPR. “Veolia also callously and fraudulently dismissed medical and health concerns by stating that, quote, some people may be sensitive to any water.”

In many cases, critics point to a pattern of Veolia saving utilities money through quick fixes—while ignoring bigger problems. In a phone interview, Kevin Acklin, the chief of staff for Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto, pointed out that Veolia’s earnings are directly tied to the utility’s short-term savings. “They had the incentive under the contract to not make capital investments in property, planning and equipment—to basically not fix the pipes when needed, to pass off those costs to other agencies, including the city and private homes,” he alleged. “Ultimately they were fiduciaries for the public authority but they also served the business needs of a large multinational corporation.”

Veolia denies responsibility in both Plymouth and Flint, saying the leak in Plymouth came from a pipe failure that was out of its control, and the contract in Flint was limited to looking at another chemical called TTHM.

In the case of Pittsburgh, Veolia maintains that PWSA’s board of directors retained control over the authority over the course of the three-year contract. “Veolia met its obligations and fulfilled the requirements of our contract in a fully transparent manner,” wrote Veolia North America spokeswoman in an email. “We stand behind the work performed on behalf of PWSA.”

Yet Pittsburgh leaders can’t help but notice that its utility is arguably even worse off than it was when it hired Veolia four years ago, with a depleted bank account—half of all earnings are directed to serving debt—and pipes that are still a century old. “The authority is in a pretty precarious financial situation right now, and I can’t sit here and point to anything tangible to show the positive legacy of the contract we had with Veolia,” says Acklin.  

A former PWSA employee was more blunt about it. When asked how to advise utilities considering contracting with Veolia, he warned, “They will come in, rape your water company, and leave with money bags.”


[ New poll shows strong support for Northwest Forest Plan: Voters prioritize water protection and recreation for public lands in the Pacific Northwest ]

Michael Reinemer

new poll reveals voters’ priorities for the management of a 25-million-acre network of America’s public lands, forests and rivers in Northern


[ Good Thing Cats Are Adorable, Because They Get Away With a Lot of Crap ]

Few creatures are as cute, cunning, or controversial as the common household cat. Despite their taste for blood, enigmatic demands, and unpredictable mood swings, cats have managed to claw their way into homes, hearts, and Youtube channels like no other domestic animal. While these stealthy creatures are much better at stalking than being stalked, it’s believed there could be anywhere from 600 million to 1 billion house cats worldwide. On the most recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Indre Viskontas sits down with cat enthusiast and science writer Abigail Tucker to discuss her new book, The Lion in the Living Room, and to explore the complicated role cats have in ecological systems across the globe.

Here are 10 of the best cat facts from our interview with Tucker. We’ve mixed in some adorable cat videos, because—let’s not kid ourselves—that’s the whole reason you clicked on this post. You’re welcome.

1. Cats are stalkers.

And they’re really good at it. Unlike their ferocious lioness cousins that hunt in packs to take down prey, domestic cats use a solo stalk-and-ambush style of hunting that requires more brains than brawn for calculated, well-timed pounces. It’s this stealth that makes them so efficient at snagging even the most deft of critters.

2. American house cats consume the equivalent of 3 million chickens every day.

3. The average Australian cat eats more fish than the average Australian does.


#catfishing #cat

A video posted by Paul (@fellhose) on

4. More house cats are born every day than there are wild lions in the entire world.

If African lions could reproduce at the same rate as their domestic brethren, they’d probably have an easier time getting off the endangered species list. Lions typically only rear 2-3 cubs over a two-year period, but female domestic cats can become pregnant at just four months old and produce an average of 8-12 kittens a year. That’s a lot of kitty litter.

5. Cats cannot live on rats alone.

While it’s common to find cats in alleys where rats are prolific, that’s not actually because the cats want to feast on the rodents. As Tucker explains, what’s actually happening is that cats and rats are feeding on the same resource: trash.


#rat #cat #catrat #ratcat #unlikelyfriendships

A photo posted by Dogs & Money (@dogs_and_money) on

6. Cats don’t meow to each other.

They only meow to us. It’s just one of many ways they bend us to their will.

7. Cats are Native to West Africa and the Near East.

Today, however, they flourish on every continent except Antarctica.


#catstagram #catmap #map #cat #catsofig #power

A photo posted by Alexis Oltmer (@alexisoltmer) on

8. Your cat is probably carrying a deadly brain-dwelling, baby-blinding parasite.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that’s transmitted through, among other things, cat feces, and can cause seizures and severe eye infections in people with compromised immune systems. Cleaning the litter box, touching anything that’s come in contact with cat feces, or ingesting contaminated soil, fruit, or vegetables (you know your garden is just a giant litter box, right?) are just a few of the ways Toxoplasma can find its way into your system. While complications are rare (pregnant women and infants are at a higher risk), more than 60 million people in the United States may be infected—most don’t experience any symptoms.


#cat #cattoilet Focky

A photo posted by Silvia Campos (@silvia_cmcampos) on

9. Cats are classified as an invasive species.

As mysterious, brilliant, and fluffy as they are, cats have developed quite the wrecking-ball reputation. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Felis catus is one of the 100 worst invasive species on Earth. The list includes non-native species that “pose a major threat to biodiversity,” agriculture, and human interest.

10. Love them or hate them, cats have mastered human-animal relations like no other species.

They have us wrapped around their paw and they know it.


Happy 7th birthday to Downey!!!! #catbirthday

A photo posted by Tiffany R. Bloom (@figglyboogles) on

To hear more about how Felis catus became what Tucker calls “the most transformative invaders the world has ever seen” (as well as America’s most popular domestic pet), check out the rest of the the Inquiring Minds episode.

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.


[ People Are Flocking to Meal-Kit Services—Then Abandoning Them in Droves ]

Meal-kit services like Blue Apron are an enigma: simultaneously booming in popularity and yet struggling to retain consumers. 

On the one hand, these services, which deliver fresh ingredients and a recipe, only made their US debut in 2012, yet they’re expected to generate $1.5 billion in sales in 2016. Investors gobble them up, too—meal-kit startups have drawn $650 million in venture capital over the industry’s short life span.

And yet, consumers tend to drop them quickly after signing up, new data show. Fast Company‘s Sarah Kessler got a look at proprietary research from market-tracking firm 101data finding that only half of Blue Apron customers stick around after the first week of service, and only 10 percent are still subscribing within six months of starting. Similarly high drop rates prevail for high-profile Blue Apron rivals HelloFresh and Plated, Kessler reports. “Spokespeople for Blue Apron, Plated, and HelloFresh all said that the 1010data analysis is inaccurate, but they declined to provide accurate data,” she added.

Growing rapidly despite such low retention rates is extremely costly. To entice new customers, these companies maintain perennial “limited time offers” like this one from Blue Apron: “Get 3 Meals Free With Your First Order!” If the 101data report is accurate, loads of consumers are taking these deals and then quickly bolting, perhaps moving on to the next meal kit dangling free food with no obligations.

Earlier this year, I dug into the meal-kit business model and found it extremely tricky: loads of packaging, delivery, and ingredients costs, balanced against a need to keep prices low enough to lure consumers away from the supermarket. The 101data numbers suggest that customer retention is yet another daunting hurdle to profitability. No wonder food startup analyst Brita Rosenheim told me that “very few, if any,” of these are likely to be “cash-flow positive” at this point—another way of saying that they’re still burning through their venture capital to stay alive. Another market-tracking firm, Packaged Facts, delivered a similar assessment in a May 2016 report.

In that context, it’s not surprising that some Blue Apron workers are feeling squeezed by the companies’ need to grow fast while also keeping costs down, as a recent BuzzFeed report suggests. 

But as Rosenheim explained to me, none of this means that the meal-kit biz is necessarily a flash in the pan, so to speak. Companies can make loads of money on razor-thin profit margins—just look at Walmart or fast-food giants like McDonald’s. Rosenheim’s analysis—that the industry is headed for a big shakeout, with a few big winners emerging—seems right to me. The trick is achieving vast scale—and that means having patient investors willing to accept what could be years of losses along the way.

That’s why I suspect the meal kits that end up thriving in this brutal terrain will ultimately be bought by big, profitable companies that can absorb losses and can keep help costs down with their existing expertise. Amazon, for example, has a huge part of the meal-kit proposition—packaging and delivery—down to a science. Or think about large, upscale grocery chains, which have economies of scale in sourcing exactly the kind of organic ingredients that meal-kit consumers are becoming accustomed to.

But far from “disrupting” Big Food, it seems likely that the surviving meal-kit services will start looking a lot like the rest of the industry: huge, highly consolidated, and pinching pennies to turn a profit.