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It’s Earth Day, also known as April 22, 2022, and we are beyond grateful that the sun sets on another week.

We love our TechCrunch Live events, but we realize we don’t always fit into everyone’s calendars. Good news: They’re now available as a podcast, too, so you can listen along at your leisure.

May your weekend be as energetic as you desire, and full of all the right types of surprises. Oh, and ice cream. – Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Zenly doesn’t want you to miss another event: Remember the big map that used to sit in the passenger side back pocket of your parents’ car? I loved plotting different routes and checking out the graphic at the top that showed how many miles were between cities. Oh, that was just me? Well, anyway, as Romain put it today, Zenly is “making social maps cool again.” The kind where you figure out what is going on nearby and which of your friends are going to be there. The Snap-owned app is undergoing its biggest redesign, adopting a sleeker look with a black background and features to make the app easier to navigate.
  • Amazon has its sights set on social: At least that’s what we think with its latest move to acquire India-based social commerce company GlowRoad. The deal comes as other big retail names, like Walmart and YouTube, invest in the social commerce space. Amazon also announced the first five startups that are part of its $1 billion industrial innovation fund focused on logistics, the supply chain and customer fulfillment, all things facing a bottleneck right now.
  • Unicorns can check out anytime they like, but they can never leave: That seems to be the sentiment behind global companies reaching $1 billion in value but not going public. However, over in Asia, Anna found that was not a problem — nine of the 10 biggest IPOs in the first quarter came from the region — and with nearly 100 deals made during that time, dare we say it is becoming “a haven for public exits”?

Startups and VC

One of the things often described as the advantage of web3 startups is also its downfall, Connie suggests: Yes, it’s neat that everything is decentralized, but when something goes sideways, there’s no safety net.

What the heck, check out the rest of the startup tech on deck*:

4 questions every CISO should be asking about the metaverse

Cropped Image Of Hand Bursting A Bubble Against Black Backbround

Image Credits: Adrian+Los/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The metaverse is still taking shape, but it’s already creating headaches for cybersecurity professionals.

Technology that places users inside virtual, immersive environments where they can transact could unlock untold benefits, but it will definitely create a threat attack surface of titanic proportions. To prepare, CSO/CISO David Fairman says organizations must be able to answer these questions:

  • Can we protect PII (and other sensitive data) in the metaverse?
  • How can I authenticate users?
  • Can we protect users from bullying, harassment and exploitation?
  • Can we manage this kind of fast-growing attack surface?

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Apple increased the use of recycled materials in its products to nearly 20% in 2021

Apple has unveiled a series of environmental initiatives, including expanding the use of recycled materials in its products.

In addition to starting to use recycled gold for the first time, Apple is more than doubled the use of recycled tungsten, rare earth elements, and cobalt, the company said. In 2021, recycled materials accounted for nearly 20 percent of the materials in Apple products, which is the highest its ever been. Last year, 59 percent of the aluminum in shipped Apple products came from recycled sources, with some products containing 100 percent recycled material within the enclosure.

The company aims to end the use of plastics in packaging by 2025. It’s reduced the amount of plastics in packaging by 75 percent since 2015 so that in 2021 the amount of plastics in packaging was down to 4 percent.

In 2017, the company announced a goal of only using renewable or recyclable materials for its products. Last year, Apple products included 45 percent recycled rare earth elements and 30 percent recycled tin. Apple used 100 percent recycled tin for soldering the main logic board of all new iPhones, iPads, AirPods, and Mac products. iPhone batteries also use 13 percent recycled cobalt. Apple now uses certified recycled gold in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, for plating the main logic board and the front and rear camera wires.

The benefit of reusing all of this material is that it reduces mining for new ones. Apple says that they were able to recover enough gold and copper from one metric ton of iPhones parts as is typically mined from 2,000 metric tons of rock. In addition to reusing materials, Apple delivered 12.2 million refurbished devices last year.

To help with these recycling efforts, Apple is using a crew of robots. including the newly-introduced Taz, a machine that uses shredder-like technology to separate magnets from audio modules to recover more rare earth elements. iPhone disassembly robot Daisy, which can disassemble phone batteries and prepare them for resale, is now able to take apart 23 different types of iPhone models. It’s also offered to license Daisy-related patents to other companies and researchers free of charge.

Apple noted it has another robot, Dave, that disassembles Taptic Engines to help to recover rare earth magnets, tungsten, and steel.

Image Credits: Apple’s Daisy robot

The company also released its 2022 Environmental Progress Report, which details its progress towards becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030 and reducing waste. Apple’s operations have been carbon neutral since 2020. Since 2018, its offices, stores, and data centers have run on 100 percent renewable energy.

“As people around the world join in celebrating Earth Day, we are making real progress in our work to address the climate crisis and to one day make our products without taking anything from the earth,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives said in a statement released on Tuesday. “Our rapid pace of innovation is already helping our teams use today’s products to build tomorrow’s, and as our global supply chain transitions to clean power, we are charting a path for other companies to follow.”

Apple also announced various Earth Day initiatives. From now until Earth Day on April 22, Apple plans to donate $1 for each purchase made on apple.com, at an Apple Store, or in the Apple Store app via Apple Pay to the World Wildlife Fund, with a maximum donation of $1 million. This initiative only applies to select countries including the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

In the U.S. and Canada, users can access guides for nature and green spaces from Lonely Planet, AllTrails, and The Nature Conservancy via Apple Maps. Nature-themed cycling, rowing, meditation, yoga, and treadmill workouts are now available on Apple Fitness+.

Apple also released a Yosemite National Park episode of its Time to Run programming, as well as an episode of Time to Walk narrated by conservationist Jane Goodall.

Image Credits: Apple

On April 22, Apple will unveil its augmented reality experience on Snapchat, which allows customers to learn about the environmental efforts involved in the iPhone 13, like the Daisy robot.

Curated collections of environment-related content will be available on Apple News, Apple Podcasts, Apple Books, and the Apple TV app. Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal has curated a selection of films and children’s author and visual artist Oliver Jeffers has put together a collection of books.

Instagram Reels adds support for fundraisers in 30 countries worldwide

Instagram is adding the ability for users to create and donate to fundraisers directly from Instagram Reels, the app’s short-form video feature and TikTok rival. The feature was announced alongside a series of updates across Meta’s platform and services designed to celebrate Earth Day, including custom stickers for Instagram and Messenger, profile frames for Facebook, conservation-focused experiences for VR and more.

Fundraising on Reels is now available in more than 30 countries worldwide, the company notes, and will support donations to more than 1.5 million nonprofits. Already, some high-profile users — including Dave Burd (Lil Dicky), Maggie Baird, and Zyahna Bryant — have used the feature to fundraise for environmental causes. While Meta takes a fee on transactions from personal fundraisers, it covers the transaction processing fees for donations to charitable organizations, so they’ll receive the full amount of the user’s contribution.

The update follows Instagram’s rollout of fundraising support for live streams in 2020, as well as the launch of a personal fundraiser feature that same year. In October, Instagram said it would begin testing a new way for users to create fundraisers for nonprofits by adding an option to start the fundraiser directly from the creation button (the “+” button at the top of the screen). When you tapped this button, you would see the option to add a fundraiser to a Feed post, instead of just a live stream, as before.

The company hadn’t yet officially announced fundraising in Reels, although some users had early access to the feature.

Although it’s worthwhile to allow online celebs and influencers to tap into their fandom to raise money for good causes, Meta benefits too. Users who become familiar with the fundraiser process could then be inclined to try it again in the future — including on those fundraisers where Meta takes a cut of the transaction revenues.

The company says that, to date, more than 4 million people have donated over $150 million through Facebook and Instagram fundraisers to combat climate change and support environmental protection. Typically, Instagram users’ donations clock in at under $20, but these small numbers add up. So far, the most popular nonprofits on Instagram, based on the number of donors, for environmental causes include The Ocean Cleanup, World Wildlife Fund, and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Meta today also noted that its in-app hub, the Climate Science Center, is now available in 150 countries and has seen over 200 million visits since its September 2020 launch. (Of course, for a network with billions of users, that’s not as impressive a figure as it may seem.)

Other updates arriving now include Instagram Earth Day stickers created by illustrator Ping Zhu, Earth Day profile frames for Facebook, a custom sticker pack and 3D Avatar stickers for Earth Day in Messenger, VR experiences from Meta Quest which have an environmental focus, and more.

The #8meals app from Habits of Waste helps people cut back on meaty meals to save the planet

Earth Day may have come and gone, but with apps like #8meals from the non-profit Habits of Waste, anyone can try and do their part to help reduce deforestation and rising greenhouse gas emissions by cutting meat out of their diets for just 8 meals a week.

The app, which was created by Habits of Waste founder Sheila Morovati along with the development shop Digital Pomegranate, gives users a way to schedule which meals of theirs will be meatless and offers recipe suggestions for what to eat to help them stick to their goals.

For Morovati, the #8meals app is only the latest in a series of initiatives that are meant to cut down on waste and consumption. Morovati’s journey to environmental advocacy began with a program to redistribute used crayons from restaurants to schools in the Southern California region.

That program, called Crayon Collection, has redirected over 20 million crayons from landfills, but Morovati’s non-profit push to reduce waste didn’t end there.

The Habits of Waste organization also launched the #cutoutcutlery campaign, which convinced Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash to change their default settings to make customers opt-in to receive plastic cutlery. It’s a way to reduce the nearly 40 billion plastic utensils that are thrown away each year, according to the Habits of Waste website.

“We decided to create a whole new arm which is cut out cutlery and eight meals. Trying to shift societal mindset is my goal,” said Morovati. 

Meanwhile, the number of meat replacements available to consumers continues to expand. Everyone from Post Cereal to Anheuser Busch is trying to make a play for replacements to proteins sourced from animals. That’s not to mention the billions raised by companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to sell replacements direct to consumers.

Going meatless, even for a few meals a week, can make a huge difference for planetary health (and human health). That’s because animal agriculture is responsible for more than 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide — and it contributes to deforestation.

“I always think about this fake person that I’ve created in my mind and I call him Mr. Joe Barbecue,” Morovati said during a YouTube interview with self-described superfood guru, Darien Olien, earlier this year. “How can we get Mr. Joe Barbecue to be on board? Is it possible to tell him to go fully vegan? I don’t think so. Not yet. But I think if we introduce it with eight meals a week, maybe even Mr. Joe Barbecue will be willing to go there and understand it and try it and open up the door a crack to invite people in who may not be willing to do this.”

SOSV’s burgeoning climate portfolio is worth nearly $6 billion as planetary health bets pay off

The burgeoning climate focused portfolio from early stage investor SOSV Investments has managed to raise nearly $2 billion in follow on financing since the startup companies graduated from the investment firm’s various accelerator programs. Taken together those companies have a collective market capitalization of nearly $6 billion.

Ahead of Earth Day this year, the early stage investor responsible for a series of accelerators including HAX, IndieBio, Chinaccelerator, and Food Labs, tallied up the results of the $89 million the firm has committed to these companies and the results, were impressive — especially considering the average age fo a company in the portfolio is only four years old.

SOSV tallied the companies into the Climate Tech 100 and divided them into categories that included startups developing technologies and services that have a direct impact on the planet and those that are adjacent to carbon removal — a further bucket was a group of startups that developed marketplaces for low carbon goods and services.

This all starts from trying to do meaningful things and purposeful things. We are trying to invest in these unstoppable forces and unstoppable trends and there has never been a more unstoppable force than climate change,” said SOSV Investments founder Sean O’Sullivan. “What we discovered we were in the right place at the right time in the climate.”

In the six years since the firm launched IndieBio with Arvind Gupta (now at the Mayfield Fund), SOSV’s life sciences accelerator had a dual focus on human and planetary health. By pursuing both areas, the firm was able to see the wave of climate tech applications in life sciences begin to rise and crest — and that’s led to early investments in companies like Perfect Day, Memphis Meats, Geltor, and MycoWorks, which are all companies using biological materials to replace traditional animal products.

Planetary health is very much our thesis here. Arvind didn’t have to talk Sean into putting $100 million at the time,” said IndieBio’s new head Po Bronson (a longtime business writer who co-authored “Decoding the World” with Gupta and partnered with him at IndieBio).

SOSV Investments founder Sean O’Sullivan

The emphasis on food, Bronson said, was because it was an area where consumers were putting pressure on companies by changing their own habits and looking for alternatives. The decision to move to plant based products is one consumer choice that can make a significant difference in planetary health — as well as their own individual health. Other systems are much harder to change without legislation or industrial support, said Bronson.

Meanwhile, the hardware group in HAX Shenzhen run by Duncan Turner is beginning to see industrial companies embrace the demands for more sustainable manufacturing practices. Indeed, the 3D printing company Formlabs is another startup that’s brought in big dollars with a process that directly impacts the carbon footprint of manufacturing.

“How we make things used to be invisible before. Every publicly traded company has to do some sort of accounting in this space,” said Bronson. “The entire manufacturing sector is being interrogated on ths front. It’s coming through and it’s driving adoption.”

Looking ahead, Bronson sees opportunities in green chemistry to move the needle beyond life sciences applications in the food space. Those new technologies include services on offer from startups like Zymochem which is making a biorecyclable material for diapers that’s better for the planet, or Pili, which is making biologically based dyes and pigments. Bronson is also looking for biological solutions that can create massive, passive systems to sequester greenhouse gases in oceans or in soil.

Meanwhile, Turner is hoping to find companies like Socure, which removes the need for a chemical separation agent for oil separation; or DivyGas, which has a method for manufacturing green hydrogen.

“Not only are the opportunities available, but this is a way people can make money,” said O’Sullivan. “Our net IRR is in the 30% plus range. You can make money in climate tech. So don’t be afraid to invest in these companies.” 

Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola and Unilever join AB Inbev’s sustainable supply chain accelerator

A clutch of the world’s largest consumer products and food companies are joining Budweiser’s parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev in backing an investment program to support early stage companies focused on making supply chains more sustainable.

The Earth Day-timed announcement comes as companies and consumers confront the failure of recycling programs to adequately address the problems associated with plastic waste — and broader issues around the contributions of consumer behavior and industrial production and distribution to the current climate emergency.

The AB InBev program, called the 100+ Accelerator, launched in 2018 with the goal to solve supply chain challenges in water stewardship, the circular economy, sustainable agriculture and climate action, the company said. These are problems that the alcohol manufacturer’s new partners — Colgate-Palmolive; Coca-Cola; and Unilever are also intimately familiar with.

Since the launch of the accelerator and investment program, AB InBev has backed 36 companies in 16 countries, according to a statement. Those startups have gone on to raise more than $200 million in follow on financing.

The accelerator program creates funding for pilot programs and offers opportunities for early stage companies to consult with executive management at the world’s top consumer brands.

Since the program’s launch, AB InBev has worked with startups to pilot returnable packaging programs; implement new cleaning technologies to reduce water and energy use in Colombian brewing operations; provide insurance to small farms in Africa and South America; collect more waste in Brazil; recycle electric vehicle batteries in China; and upcycle grains waste from the brewing process to create new, nutrient rich food sources.

As pressures from outside investors and regulators mount, companies are beginning to shift their attention to focus on ways to make their industrial processes more sustainable.

These kinds of collaborative initiatives among major corporations, which are long overdue, have the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing the environmental footprint of business, but it depends on the depth of the commitment and the speed at which these businesses are willing to deploy solutions beyond a few small pilot programs.

Applications for the latest cohort will be due by May 31, 2021.


Here’s how Elon Musk’s $100 million Xprize competition for carbon removal will work

Elon Musk notified the world that he would be donating $100 million to pursue new technologies for carbon capture, methods through which carbon dioxide can be actively extracted from the atmosphere as a means to help stave off climate change. As TechCrunch reported in January when he made the tweet, Musk’s sizeable pool of monetary incentive would be going to the Xprize foundation, a non-profit that has organized similar ambitious technology competitions aimed at developing world-changing tech. Now, Xprize and Musk have released new details of the competition.

The entire $100 million prize pool is up for grabs with this competition, which will seek solutions that can “pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and lock it away permanently in an environmentally benign way.” That’s an ambitious goal, and one that seeks methods for carbon extraction which have a net negative effect on the overall global balance of the element’s presence. Xprize aims to award up to 15 finalists $1 million each, along with three top winners, with $50 million to the Grand Prize victor, and $20 million and $10 million respectively for second and third place. 25 student scholarships valued at $250,000 each will also be up for grabs specifically for student team entrants.

To qualify for victory, solutions must be able to extract 1 ton of CO2 per day, and be viable in a scaled, validated model at time of presentation, with the ability to scale it to “gigaton levels” in commercially viable ways in future. Those are big goals for new technologies, but the competition’s stakes are high: Musk has frequently referred to climate change as an existential threat to humanity, and carbon capture is one key means to combat it.

Carbon capture methods exist, and some are at the center of new startups and emerging businesses, like Canadian company Carggon Engineering which uses CO2 extracted from the atmosphere to create new types of fuel, or Air Vodka, a carbon negative vodka distilled using C02 removed from the atmosphere. Though there are a handful of companies pursuing this, the problem is that it’s typically very expensive to remove carbon in a way that is both safe and that has no subsequent impact on the environment from its resulting byproducts.

The new Xprize competition hopes to spur the development of a wide range of emerging companies in a way similar to how the the 2004 $10 million private spaceflight Ansari Xprize led the development of a whole new era in the space industry. The competition will officially begin on April 22, 2021, at which time full guidelines will be made available and registration will open. Applicants will have up to four years to submit their solution, with the competition closing on Earth Day 2025 and the initial $1 million awards distributed after 18 months following that. That will provide the funding necessary for teams to build out their full-scale demos to claim the top prizes.

Google data centers watch the weather to make the most of renewable energy

Google’s data centers run 24/7 and suck up a ton of energy — so it’s in both the company’s and the planet’s interest to make them do so as efficiently as possible. One new method has the facilities keeping an eye on the weather so they know when the best times are to switch to solar and wind energy.

The trouble with renewables is that they’re not consistent, like the output of a power plant. Of course it isn’t simply that when the wind dies down, wind energy is suddenly ten times as expensive or not available — but there are all kinds of exchanges and energy economies that fluctuate depending on what’s being put onto the grid and from where.

Google’s latest bid to make its data centers greener and more efficient is to predict those energy economies and schedule its endless data-crunching tasks around them.

It’s not that someone at Google looks up the actual weather for the next day and calculates how much solar energy will be contributed in a given region and when. Turns out there are people who can do that for you! In this case a firm called Tomorrow.

Weather patterns affect those energy economies, leading to times when the grid is mostly powered by carbon sources like coal, and other times when renewables are contributing their maximum.

This helpful visualization shows how it might work – shift peak loads to match times when green energy is most abundant.

What Google is doing is watching this schedule of carbon-heavy and renewable-heavy periods on the grid and shuffling things around on its end to take advantage of them. By stacking all its heavy compute tasks into time slots where the extra power they will draw is taken from mostly renewable energy sources, they can reduce their reliance on carbon-heavy power.

It only works if you have the kind of fluid and predictable digital work that Google has nurtured. When energy is expensive or dirty, the bare minimum of sending emails and serving YouTube videos is more than enough to keep its data centers busy. But when it’s cheap and green, compute-heavy tasks like training machine learning models or video transcoding can run wild.

This informed time-shifting is a smart and intuitive idea, though from Google’s post it’s not clear how effective it really is. Usually when the company announces some effort like this, it’s accompanied by estimates of how much energy is saved or efficiency gained. In the case of this time-shifting experiment, the company is uncharacteristically conservative:

“Results from our pilot suggest that by shifting compute jobs we can increase the amount of lower-carbon energy we consume.”

That’s a lot of hedging for something that sounds like a home run on paper. A full research paper is forthcoming, but I’ve asked Google for more information in the meantime; I’ll update this post if I hear back.

If you watch one celebrity-filled, anally obsessed charity video before Earth Day, make it this one

Lil Dicky, the white comedy rapper with questionable taste but an impressive rolodex, has come up with a millennial’s Earth Day answer to the 80s celebrity-studded, charity hit “We are the World“.

Dicky isn’t tackling African famine, instead he’s come up with an oddly anally-fixated paean to the Earth’s climate and the disaster the world faces if there isn’t some collective action taken to reverse our current course of carbon emissions.

To hammer this message home, and raise money for Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change-focused foundation, the tricky Dicky with a fraught history has enlisted some very very powerful celebrity friends.

DiCaprio appears in the video, as does Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, Snoop Dogg, Kevin Hart, Wiz Kalifa, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the Backstreet Boys.

“Like a lot of people, I had a vague idea that something bad was happening here on Earth, but I didn’t really realize how insane our climate crisis is and how screwed humanity is about to be,” the artist told Vice’s music publication, Noisey, in an interview. “It’s full-on crazy! If we don’t get our act together now, and change a lot about our fundamental behavior, Earth will become unlivable alarmingly soon. Why did it take me so long to get wind of this? I feel like everybody on the planet should be talking about this 24/7. But that’s not the case. So I wanted to make the most entertaining and epic piece of content possible, to get everyone aware and talking. Because it’s now or never… Let’s save the Earth! We love the Earth!!!!”

The seven minute video has a host of cameos, a live action sequence, a farting skunk, Justin Bieber as a baboon singing about his anus, horny rhinos, and Snoop Dogg as talking weed. And it’s racked up over 7 million views and counting on YouTube.

Saving the planet never seemed so questionable.

Apple expands global recycling programs, announces new Material Recovery Lab in Austin

Apple announced today a further investment in its recycling programs and related e-waste efforts, which includes an expansion of its recycling program for consumers and the announcement of a new, 9,000-square-foot Material Recovery Lab based in Austin, Texas, focused on discovering future recycling processes. The company also reported the success of its existing efforts around recycling and refurbishing older Apple devices, and keeping electronic waste from landfills.

The expansion of the recycling program will quadruple the number of locations in the U.S. where consumers can send their iPhones to be disassembled by Daisy, the recycling robot Apple introduced last year — also just ahead of Earth Day.

The robot was developed in-house by Apple engineers, and is able to disassemble different types of iPhone models at a rate of 200 iPhones per hour.

Daisy can now disassemble and recycle used iPhones returned to Best Buy stores in the U.S. and KPN retailers in the Netherlands. Customers can also send in iPhones for recycling through the Apple Store or through Apple’s Trade In program online.

When Daisy was first introduced, it could disassemble 9 different iPhone models. Now, it can handle 15. This allows Apple to recover parts for re-use. That includes iPhone batteries, which are now sent back upstream in Apple’s supply chain where they’re combined with scrap, allowing cobalt to be recovered for the first time.

Apple also uses 100 percent recycled tin in the main logic boards of 11 different products, and notes its aluminum alloy made from 100 percent recycled aluminum reduced the carbon footprint of the new MacBook Air and Mac mini by nearly half.

Apple says Daisy can disassemble 1.2 million devices per year, and it has received nearly a million devices through its various programs.

It also in 2018 refurbished over 7.8 million Apple devices for resale, and diverted over 48,000 metric tons of electronic waste from landfills.

This year, aluminum recovered through Apple’s Trade In program will be remelted into the enclosures for the MacBook Air.

The company announced today another significant investment in its recycling efforts with the opening of a Material Recovery Lab in Austin, which will work with Apple engineers and academia on coming up with more solutions to recycling industry challenges. The lab also houses large equipment, typically found at e-waste facilities, to aid in this research. (See above)

“Advanced recycling must become an important part of the electronics supply chain, and Apple is pioneering a new path to help push our industry forward,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, in a statement. “We work hard to design products that our customers can rely on for a long time. When it comes time to recycle them, we hope that the convenience and benefit of our programs will encourage everyone to bring in their old devices.”

Along with the news around recycling efforts, Apple also released its 2019 Environment report, which contains additional information on the company’s climate change solutions.

On Earth Day (April 22), Apple will host environmentally themed sessions at its stores and feature environmentally conscious apps and games on its App Store collections, as well.