No. 101: Excessive Emissions

General Motors has been fined $146 million for missing emissions targets, the latest in a trend of automakers missing targets or outright avoiding them. Plus, researchers have developed a method that could help divert more clothing from landfills so it can become new products.

No. 101: Excessive Emissions
Photo by Samantha Fortney / Unsplash

If you enjoy the air you breathe, you might be interested to know that automakers are missing EPA emissions targets. The more I dug into a story about General Motors this week, the more automakers I found that were subject to EPA fines or Justice Department intervention. It's a concerning pattern, especially since the EPA increased efficiency targets recently. Penalties are all well and good, but the fines are an indicator of a more pressing problem: an inability to reduce emissions quickly enough.

Speaking of transportation, definitely check out this week's featured job with one of the biggest electric vehicle infrastructure companies around. I'm also pointing you towards one of my favorite impact investor firms to help you find more social impact job opportunities at growth companies. Off we go!

~ Greg

What we're reading

General Motors has been fined $146 million for exceeding emission standards set by the EPA. (CBS News)

  • Similar actions have been taken against Hyundai and Kia in the past, and I'm sure you're familiar with the emissions scandal that hit Volkswagen. It even got its own Watergate-like moniker: Dieselgate.
  • But wait, there's more: Cummins, a major producer of trunk engines, was fined the largest penalty ever under the Clean Air Act for installing defeat devices designed to stymie emissions controls.
    • As bad as this is, the part that fascinates me is how many people would have to go along with this for it to reach production. It really says something about the company culture at Volkswagen and Cummins.
  • The main reason I wanted to spotlight this story, however, is to point out how common this is and how it could continue. One of my concerns about the new EPA emissions standards – which set average fuel efficiency targets that largely require the manufacture of electric vehicles – is that automakers could miss targets and accept it as the status quo.
    • $146 million is a lot of money, no doubt, but as with major tech company settlements, it's a drop in the bucket compared to annual sales. My cursory search of GM's revenue turned up $43 billion in Q4 2023. That fine was 0.0035% of their overall revenue. Not much of an incentive to change your practices, especially if consumers prefer internal combustion to electric.
    • If not for backlash among consumers, it's easy to see a future where automakers take these fines as the cost of doing business and pass along the penalty in their pricing. That's assuming the EPA still has teeth in a few years after the Supreme Court eliminated the Chevron deference precedent in its current term.

Less than 15% of clothing is recycled, and one of the reasons is that blended fibers are difficult to break down into their constituent parts. Researchers at the University of Delaware have developed a solution that separates blended fabrics so they can be reused as new fibers or in other products. (WaPo)

  • It's pretty cool stuff: 15 minutes and a microwave are enough to turn fibers back into molecules that can become new clothing or other products that rely on synthetic materials.
    • Compared to the default, this is a big deal. Most clothing that is recycled becomes insulation, not new clothing.
  • This story reminded me of another company I ran across at a conference in Orlando a number of years ago called PureCycle – they're hiring by the way, and you can see one of their opportunities below.
    • PureCycle is trying to solve the problem with plastic recycling where the resulting material is of inferior quality to new plastic because it includes impurities. It sounds like recycling fibers has historically shared this problem, meaning companies that produce recycled materials are unable to find a buyer.
  • I love this idea, but as the researchers note, it'll be a long time before it can be commercialized at scale. The best thing we can do for now is to invest in clothing that lasts longer or purchase secondhand – if you'd like some resources for the latter, check out the Resource of the Week in Impactfully No. 87: Activist Investors.

Job of the week

A few issues ago, I talked about how our electric charging networks were expanding rapidly to meet the goal of 500,000 fast charging ports by 2030. One of the biggest players in the space is ChargePoint, and they're on the lookout for a people ops wunderkind.

Alright, maybe "wunderkind" won't be in your job title, but as Director, Global People Operations and HRIS, it might as well be. As the name implies, you'll lead all things people ops at both a strategic and tactical level. The role is in Campbell, CA – just a stone's throw away from San Jose and the rest that the Bay Area has to offer – and stunning weather is most definitely included.

I was already pretty excited to feature a role from ChargePoint this week, but I forgot they have one of the best perks around: you can bring your dog to work. You can check out their other opportunities here.

Community roundup

  • NASCAR has debuted a new EV prototype, but don't expect it to replace their current stock cars anytime soon. One proposal is for an EV-specific circuit, similar to what Formula 1 did with Formula E. (The Verge)
  • States and school districts are targeting mobile phones in the classroom with a flurry of new legislation and guidelines aimed at improving mental health and removing distractions. (Axios)
  • The Sustainable Entertainment Alliance is pushing the entertainment industry to adopt more sustainable practices, with major shows like Bridgerton and True Detective: Night Country among the productions that have turned to alternative energy sources. (Grist)
  • Hurricane Beryl became the earliest Category 5 Atlantic storm on record, as scientists predict an especially active hurricane season. (CNN)
  • Corals are especially susceptible to warming ocean waters which has led to mass bleaching events. To try to prevent this, a group of scientists in Australia is manipulating the microbes that live within coral in the hopes of improving their resilience. (National Geographic)
  • Researchers studying AI tools in classrooms found that ChatGPT scored essays from Asian American students lower than other students, indicating the potential for racial bias if adopted as an educational aid. (KQED)
  • Twenty-five states have now passed laws prohibiting gender-affirming care for transgender people under 18, and the Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case in their next term that could determine whether such laws are deemed unconstitutional. (NPR)

Hot job opportunities

Resource of the week

I source job openings from all over the web, and some of my favorite sources of opportunities come from venture capital firms.

Really? Venture capital?

Yes, really – but only the impact investor ones. These are VCs that invest in companies in social impact verticals: think clean and renewable energy, education, and healthcare for starters. They are an awesome source if you're looking for a certain type of role: smaller company, faster pace, and development over sustainment. Basically, if you want to be a builder, this is where to look.

There are a bunch of impact investor firms out there, but this week I want to point you to CityLight VC. You might recognize some of their portfolio companies from past issues of this newsletter: Headspace, Omnidian, and for example. If your interests align with the sectors on the CityLight website, I'd encourage you to check out the companies here to see if they're hiring..

Test your knowledge

Last week, I noted that plastic recycling is pretty dismal – we're talking single-digit percentages of plastic recycled compared to what is produced. Plastic isn't the only material that needs an overhaul though: we need to consider how manufacturing processes and a product's end of life impact the environment. Ideally, that means recovering and reusing as much as possible. You saw a hint of that in the fabric recycling story above, but more generally, I'm talking about circular economies.

I hid a hint to this week's trivia question in the job opportunities this week – see if you can figure it out:

What term describes the practice of growing food in areas such as rooftops, backyards, and community gardens?

Email me your guess, and I'll send one lucky winner a couple of One Work stickers!

I am restless from the summer heat, and I can't be the only one. At least I'm not in Death Valley. You can find me on LinkedIn and Threads.

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Jamie Larson