Organic farming more sustainable than conventional farming

The conventional agribusiness community frequently attacks organic farming as if it were a major threat, even though organic farming currently accounts for less than 1% of global agricultural land use and is growing at a slow rate. A recent study from Rodale Institute, one of the best known of North American organic agriculture and organic gardening advocates, indicates that organic agriculture is indeed better for the environment than conventional agriculture.

The Rodale report derives from a 30 year side by side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. Over this time period the study finds that:

  • organic yields match conventional yields.
  • organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
  • organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
  • organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
  • conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
  • organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.

The Rodale Farming Systems Trial 30-year Report is available at

A new Worldwatch Institute Vital Signs report on worldwide organic farming trends is available for a small fee (summary is free) at 

WWF says more recycling needed to conserve forests

On January 8 we posted a story entitled USDA to help industry promote increased use of paper. Now WWF has released a detailed report which states that, without major changes to the way we manage forests and forest resources, this is absolutely the wrong way to go. The report states that, by 2050, rising population and demand, as well as an increase in use of wood for bioenergy, could triple the amount of wood society takes from forests and plantations per year. Such a scenario will have a disastrous impact on the world’s forests and will hasten the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

World Wildlife Fund advocates Zero Net Deforestation and Forest Degradation (ZNDD) by 2020 as a goal that will stem the depletion of forest-based biodiversity and ecosystem services, and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Among the elements necessary to achieving this goal WWF proposes:

  • More recycling in countries with low recovery rates
  • More efficient processing and manufacturing
  • Plantations to reduce pressure on natural forests
  • Better management of bioenergy production

A summary and links to the four chapters of the 112 page report can be found at

Triclosan in soaps appears to contribute to dioxin in lakes

A new study reported by researchers at the University of Minnesota has found that triclosan, a antibacterial agent widely used in soaps and similar personal care products, as well as in  the manufacture of textiles, leather, paper, plastic and rubber to stop the growth of bacteria, fungus, mildew, and to prevent odours, is the dominant source of several forms of dioxin in lakes which are receiving effluents from sewage treatment plants.

The research indicates that the use of chlorine in wastewater treatment plants where triclosan is present in the effluent leads to formation of chlorinated triclosan compounds which then react photochemically to form four types of dioxin. In lakes with no wastewater input the researchers found no dioxins. Dioxins are a family of chemicals many of which are highly toxic and carcinogenic.

Environment Canada announced last March that it will “initiate consultations with industry on the potential for voluntary reductions in the use of triclosan in products”.

The new research is available in the form of an abstract (free) or full article (subscription or fee required) at

The Environment Canada position on triclosan is at with a link on that page to a more detailed government Q&A.


Europe carbon prices down significantly

European carbon credits are trading today at prices almost half those of early November. Prices have fallen from more than 7.50 Euros per tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent in early November to less than 4.00 Euros today, reported as being a record low price.

The oversupply of credits is blamed by some observers on excessive allocations to European industry. The European Emissions Trading Scheme is a ‘cap and trade’ scheme, operating through an initial allocation of  allowances to industry and trading among companies to ensure that they have sufficient allowances on hand to cover all of their greenhouse gas emissions.

Though excessive allocations are one factor which has led to low prices, the economic downturn, energy efficiency initiatives by some companies, and a political debate in the European Parliament on managing the supply of future allowances are all playing significant roles in influencing market prices.

Many in industry still support the ‘cap and trade’ scheme as being one of the most efficient means of regulating greenhouse gas emissions but if prices stay at their current low level for too long there will be little incentive to increase energy efficiency. With no major carbon markets in North America, North American organizations often turn to European markets for sale of carbon credits from their international emission reduction projects. The low carbon prices on European markets will have a significant impact on such projects.

ETS prices can be followed on the European Energy Exchange AG website at

Certain pesticides may kill frogs at quite low concentrations

A group of scientists from a university and laboratories in Germany and Switzerland as well as from the Federal Environment Agency of Germany have conducted experiments on the toxicity of several common pesticides (four fungicides, two herbicides and one insecticide) to frogs. The result: many of the frogs died within an hour, even when the exposure was at rates that were 10% of the recommended rate of field application.  The pesticides selected include some that are widely used in Canada.

The results also suggested that the primary acutely toxic component may not always be the pesticide but may include the solvent naptha that forms part of the commercial product.

The scientists conclude:

Our results . . .  indicate that existing risk assessment procedures for pesticide regulation are not protecting amphibians. Since amphibians are considered sentinel species for environmental and human health, our results might even have implications for other taxa or entire ecosystems. It is therefore imperative to understand the underlying mechanisms of the toxicity of pesticides for amphibians to obtain a realistic estimate of the extent of their impact and to reconcile agricultural practice and amphibian conservation efforts.

Industry spokespersons are already expressing criticism of the study methodology (see yesterday’s story on GallonDaily for a report from the European Environment Agency which is very critical of the ways in which industry tries to deny scientific research that is critical of the environmental and health impacts of its products).

The full peer-reviewed article, including a description of the test methodology and sample size, is available in Nature Publishing’s Scientific Reports open access journal at

European Environment Agency report criticizes industry, government and society

The European Environment Agency, part of the European Union, has published a report which blasts industry to a greater extent than many environmental groups and is highly critical of governments and society.

Case studies presented, often in a critical way, include:

  • The precautionary principle and false alarms — lessons learned
  • Too much to swallow: PCE contamination of mains water
  • Beryllium’s ‘public relations problem’
  • Tobacco industry manipulation of research
  • Vinyl chloride: a saga of secrecy
  • The pesticide DBCP and male infertility
  • Bisphenol A: contested science, divergent safety evaluations
  • Booster biocide antifoulants: is history repeating itself?
  • Ethinyl oestradiol in the aquatic environment
  • Climate change: science and the precautionary principle
  • Floods: lessons about early warning systems
  • Seed.dressing systemic insecticides and honeybees
  • Late lessons from Chernobyl, early warnings from Fukushima
  • Hungry for innovation: from GM crops to agroecology
  • Invasive alien species: a growing but neglected threat?
  • Mobile phones and brain tumour risk: early warnings, early actions?
  • Nanotechnology — early lessons from early warnings

Among the many findings:

  • numerous case studies show that decisions to act without precaution often come from businesses.
  • industry lobbyists . . . oppose or prolong precautionary measures by ‘manufacturing uncertainty’ and generating doubt on the state of scientific evidence.
  • increasing scientific knowledge has shown that the causal links between stressors and harm are more complex than was previously thought
  • many of the political and scientific ‘bureaucratic silos’ still remain, despite frequent calls for policy integration and inter-departmental coordination.
  • environment and health research overly focuses on well-known rather than unknown hazards at the expense of emerging issues and their potential impacts.

Among the many implied recommendations:

  • there is growing evidence that precautionary measures do not stifle innovation, but instead can encourage it, in particular when supported by smart regulation or well-designed tax changes.
  • new transformative approaches are emerging to manage the systemic and interconnected challenges the world faces e.g. economic/financial, climate/energy, ecosystems/food.
  • some corporations are fundamentally embracing sustainable development objectives in their business models and activities.
  • precautionary actions can be seen to stimulate rather than hinder innovation; they certainly do not lead to excessive false alarms.
  • firms and governments need to extend their economic accounting systems to incorporate the full impacts of their activities on people’s health and on ecosystems.

For consumers, this report opens a wide window into how governments and industry may not always be protecting their health and the environment. For business it provides many suggestions on how corporations and governments might work to win back public trust.

A brief summary, a 44 page summary, and the 746 page full report can be found at


Solar photovoltaic not in conflict with human use of land

A new report from World Wildlife Fund Global and partners in the renewable energy industry looks at how much land would be required to provide 100% of a country’s electricity from solar photovoltaic technology. The findings: all of a country’s electricity could be provided from renewable solar technology on less than 1% of the country’s land area. The conflict between solar PV and other land uses is hence much less than some people have suggested and potentially much less than other renewable sources of electricity.

The report, entitled Solar PV Atlas: Solar Power in Harmony with Nature, profiles solar power opportunities in Indonesia, Madagascar, Madhya Pradesh, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, and Turkey.  In a moderately detailed analysis the report finds that

Today, PV provides 0.1 per cent of total global electricity generation. However, PV has seen an average annual growth rate of more than 40 per cent since 2000. Now a well-established commercially available and reliable technology, it has significant potential for long-term growth in nearly all world regions now and in the coming decades.

GallonDaily commends this 60 page report to investors and PV technology developers as well as to those interested generally in renewable energy. A summary and a link to the complete document can be found at http://new-WWF-report-says-land-requirements-p://

Green buildings can help encourage green behavior

Recently published research indicates that sustainable buildings may encourage more environmental behavior among their occupants.

In a project funded by a Discovery Grant from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia studied whether people are more likely to correctly choose the proper disposal bin (garbage, compost, recycling) in a building designed with sustainability in mind compared to a building that was not.

The findings: being in an environmentally focused building leads both to feeling and behaving in a more environmentally conscious manner. The researchers also suggest the opportunity for a new line of research that bridges psychology, design, and policy-making in an attempt to understand how the human environment can be designed and used as a subtle yet powerful tool to encourage and achieve aggregate pro-environmental behavior. “With urbanization rapidly increasingly globally, the design of new sustainable infrastructure can be a remarkable tool for creating new sustainable norms that may be essential to elicit sustainable behaviors.”

These findings, if confirmed, suggest that businesses that are seeking to achieve more environmentally responsible behavior, whether in disposal of waste, reducing energy and water consumption, or purchasing greener products, may do well to position the activities in more sustainable buildings. This would seem to be a useful incentive for greener public, commercial, and industrial buildings.

The complete article is available at

A cruise ship environmental report card

Friends of the Earth has researched and published an environmental report card on fifteen major cruise lines and 148 cruise ships. The report card looks at:

  • whether the ships have installed advanced sewage and wastewater treatment instead of dumping what FOE calls “minimally treated” sewage into the ocean
  • whether the cruise line has implemented ‘shore power’ instead of running ships’ engines to produce power when docked
  • whether the line has violated 2010 water pollution standards designed to better protect the coast of Alaska

The rating program is somewhat simplistic but is likely the best that the environmental group can do without much more cooperation from the cruise lines. Using this methodology, Disney tops the FOE’s Cruise Report Card, with Princess not too far behind.

Vacationers looking to select a cruise based at least in part on the ship’s environmental performance can access the data at Note that there is a tab for individual ships as well as for cruise lines. Some ships individually exceed the reported performance of the cruise line as a whole.

GallonDaily reminds readers that we report on information provided by others that we consider of potential interest to the business and environment community. We cannot and do not take responsibility for the quality of data provided by others.

New York State helps green economy with a green bank

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to create a $1 billion green bank to spur the Clean Tech Economy. This is not the first green bank initiative in the US but if implemented as the Governor plans it will almost certainly be the biggest. It will also likely contribute to clean tech investors who might otherwise have invested in Canada to move their projects to New York State.

The role of the bank will be to leverage public dollars, not all of them new money, with a private sector match to spur the clean economy. The Governor notes that, while subsidies, which are being used for renewable energy in New York State,  are important, it is becoming evident that they alone cannot achieve the level of clean energy deployment necessary. The Governor further states:

The NY Green Bank would overcome a number of obstacles and uncertainties in the clean energy sector, including unstable federal funding and policy, uncoordinated action and disparate one-time subsidies at the state level, a lack of appropriate financial instruments, and apprehension in the investor community. The lowering of other barriers would enable clean energy markets to function more fluidly, connecting green projects with investors and capital. Product awareness would be raised, contract processes standardized to reduce transaction costs, and informational deficiencies about loan performance for energy efficiency mitigated. Smaller green technology projects that individually may not be large enough to attract capital can also be aggregated.

The printed version of the Governor’s plan lists the following summary of the benefits of creating a green bank:

  1. Hasten the transition to a clean economy and environment in New York State by lowering capital costs and bringing green energy to scale.
  2. Lower consumer prices for renewable and efficient energy sources.
  3. Bring well-paying jobs to New York State that support employment across skill and education levels.
  4. Build an integrated state approach to clean energy investment and innovation.
  5. Hold taxpayers harmless while encouraging more vibrant private market activity in clean energy.
  6. Making the exchange of information and capital more fluid in the clean energy market (contract standardization, information dissemination, etc.).

GallonDaily will be watching this initiative with great interest and concern for Canada’s clean tech development.

The Governor’s plan is contained in his 2013 State of the State address, where many more energy and environment plans, including plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are announced, at