Chemical industry needs more Responsible Care

More than 25 years since Canada’s chemical industry launched what has become the worldwide Responsible Care program, a landmark initiative under which the industry claims to take responsibility for stewardship of its activities and products, users are still dumping a seabird-killing product of the chemical industry into the world’s oceans. Thousands of seabirds are dying as a result. GallonDaily’s editor was part of a multistakeholder pre-launch analysis of the Responsible Care initiative and recalls advising the industry that it will only work if it is properly enforced.

The UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is calling on the UK government to use its power in internati0nal shipping agencies to implement a total prohibition on the dumping of polyisobutene (PIB) from ships.

PIB is the basis of butyl, or synthetic, rubber, but it is also used as a component of chewing gum, sealants, roof membranes, tire inner tubes, bladders for sporting balls (like footballs and basket balls, and as an performance-enhancing additive for fuels and lubricants. This is one of the applications which brings it on board ships, though there is also substantial transportation of bulk PIB around the world.

Currently, the international convention on marine pollution allows the dumping of small amounts of PIB from ships. This occurs when ships dump ballast water or clean out their tanks. On contact with seawater, PIB forms a very sticky mass that floats on the water and does not biodegrade. Seabirds, especially those that dive for their food, are liable to become entangled by this sticky mass which they are then unable to clean from their feathers.

According to the RSPB, more than 4,000 dead seabirds covered in PIB have been washed up on UK shores in recent months. The RSPB states that the actual death toll is probably far greater.

PIB is not a niche product made by backyard entrepreneurs. It is produced by some of the world’s largest chemical companies and global consumption was over 850,000 tonnes in 2011, with the USA as the leading producer.

Chemical companies seem to be adept at vigilance when it is in their economic interests to do so. For example, one such company chases farmers into court when they are found to be planting seeds containing a genetic trait that is covered by the company’s patent. GallonDaily suggests that if chemical companies want to minimize national and international regulation of their products  they should exercise the same diligence when it comes to stewardship of a product that is actually killing seabirds. Failing to do so puts the credibility of the entire chemical industry, and more particularly of its Responsible Care program, at significant risk. People are likely to come to the conclusion that the only option is more regulation of the products of an irresponsible industry.

The RSPB statement on polyisobutene is online at http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/345758-working-with-the-shipping-industry-to-prevent-discharge-of-seabird-killing-substance

An RSPB briefing document on PIB, and a link to a video showing the harm that PIB causes to seabirds, are available at http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/PIB_and_seabirds_RSPB_Briefing_17_Apr_2013_tcm9-344511.pdf

Study indicates composting of household organics is good for agriculture

A trial by New Zealand research company Plant & Food Research confirms what many have believed for a long time: composting of household lawn, garden and food waste can provide a significant bonus to agriculture.

The trial showed that adding compost to different farming scenarios increased the production of human food crops by up to 14% and of animal feed crops by up to 50%.

The researcher is quoted as stating that “Plants need nitrogen and other nutrients to grow. These nutrients and high levels of carbon are present in compost and adding it to soil boosts production. Because it can also supply the plants with nitrogen, a reduction in nitrogen fertilizer application is also possible without compromising yields.”

Huge volumes of lawn, garden and food waste go to landfill each year in Canada. This study confirms that not only is composting good for reducing the amount of landfilled waste but it can also be good for agriculture, potentially reducing synthetic and non-renewable fertilizer use and increasing food production.

Adding municipal compost from household organic waste to agricultural land should be seen not just as a way of getting rid of waste material but of actually providing value to farmland. Municipalities that do not compost household organics are wasting valuable agricultural nutrients and contributing to avoidable environmental degradation.

The Plant & Food Research trial is reported at http://www.plantandfood.co.nz/page/news/media-release/story/reducing-rubbish-by-feeding-the-soil/

 

Green trade opportunities are potentially very large

The Trade, Policy and Planning Unit of the United Nations Environment Programme has just published a report entitled Green Economy and Trade Trends, Challenges and Opportunities. The report identifies international green products and services opportunities in six sectors: agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, forests, manufacturing, renewable energy, and tourism.

Among the findings:

  • The incorporation of sustainable practices in production and trade can positively impact different elements of the supply chain and consequently make exports more competitive in international markets.
  • The global market for organic food and beverages is projected to double between 2011 and 2015, growing to US$105 billion by 2015.
  • Wild-capture fisheries already certified or in full assessment account for annual catches of around 18 million tonnes of seafood, about 17 per cent of the annual global harvest of wild capture fisheries, and demand far outstrips supply. The total value of seafood that has been farmed according to certified sustainability standards is forecast to increase to US$1.25 billion by 2015, up from US$300 million in 2008.
  • As of early 2013, the total area of certified forest worldwide stands at close to 400 million hectares, amounting to approximately 10 per cent of global forest resources. Sales of certified wood products are worth over US$20 billion per annum.
  • Many manufacturers are greening their practices in order to secure their positions within international supply chains. This is illustrated, for example, by the 1,500 per cent increase in global ISO 14001 environmental management certifications between 1999 and 2009.

  • Since 1990, annual global growth in solar photovoltaic, wind and biofuel supply capacity has averaged 42, 25 and 15 per cent respectively. In 2010, the investments in renewable energy supply reached US$211 billion, a five-fold increase from 2004, and more than half of these investments were in developing countries.
  • In developing countries, tourism’s market share has increased from 30 per cent in 1980 to 47 per cent in 2011, and is expected to reach 57 per cent by 2030. In 2012, for the first time, international tourism arrivals reached one billion per year. The fastest growing sub-sector in sustainable tourism is ecotourism, which focuses on nature-based activities.

The 298 page report is available at http://unep.org/greeneconomy/GreenEconomyandTrade/GreenEconomyandTradeReport/tabid/106194/language/en-US/Default.aspx

Good reading on genetically modified foods

The peer-reviewed science journal Nature has just published a special edition on genetically modified crops. GallonDaily recommends the special section to readers interested in this topic as a good exploration of what Nature calls “the hopes, the fears, the reality and the future”.

One of the most helpful articles is entitled “A Hard Look at GM Crops”.  Nature news reporter Natasha Gilbert takes a look at what she describes as three pressing questions:

  • Are GM crops fuelling the rise of herbicide-resistant ‘superweeds’?
  • Are they driving farmers in India to suicide?
  • And are the foreign transgenes in GM crops spreading into other plants?

The answers, addressed in depth in the article, are True, False, and Unknown. The articles conclusions is that GM crops will not solve all the agricultural challenges facing the developing or developed world, but that they may help overcome some food production problems.

Another article in the special section proposes that research on GM crops should be moved out of industry, which is excessively driven by the need for short-term profit. This is seen to limit some of the more significant food production problems that might be able to be addressed through GM systems.

Addressing the public’s need for information about GM foods, the writer states that “The analyst who spoke of an uninformed public may have been correct in 1993, but such a claim no longer applies. People are positively swimming in information about GM technologies. Much of it is wrong — on both sides of the debate.”

The Nature special section is as balanced a discussion of GM crops as GallonDaily has ever seen. It does not provide all the answers but it provides the reader with a good analysis of many of the questions and does not hold back in its criticism of the GM crops industry. It is available online at http://www.nature.com/news/specials/gmcrops/index.html

Poorly considered demolition project causes grief to respected museum

In 2001 a new American Folk Art Museum opened on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. The new building had been designed by the renowned firm of Williams and Tsien Architects and was widely applauded as “a beautiful and inventive jewel of a building that enriched its streetscape”.

In 2011 the museum closed because of financial problems and the neighbouring organization, which happened to be the world-renowned Museum of Modern Art, bought the building at a fire sale price and decided to pull it down in order to expand its own space with an 82 storey tower.

Following the announcement of the proposed demolition in April of this year the folks at MOMA have been subject to all kinds of criticism. Among the strongest comes from Seattle-based “industrious Architecture” firm BUILD llc which, in an open letter to MOMA, stated “You are practicing anti-sustainability. The environmental impacts of bulldozing a perfectly functional, 12 year old building are shameful. We get a headache just considering the consequences: the effort it will take to raze the building, transport the debris, and the amount of space it will consume at the landfill—not to mention the wasted energy, time, materials, and financing of the original structure. Don’t even try pulling off some exhibit on “green” design after this foolish move.”

The mess in which MOMA, a world leader in stewardship of modern art and design, now finds itself could easily have been avoided had the organization more completely applied the principles which it espouses to its own activities. Other businesses, with less architectural experience than MOMA, might also find themselves creating demolition waste out of architectural gems with many more years of life.  Recycling buildings, especially newer buildings, is not yet always getting the attention it deserves but it is as environmentally important to recycle buildings as to recycle sheets of paper.

You can read the story of the American Folk Art Museum building in an editorial in the April issue of Architectural Digest at http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2013/04/130412-Editorial-MoMA-Inc-Plans-to-Crush-Williams-and-Tsien8217s-Gem.asp

The open letter to MOMA from BUILD llc can be read at http://blog.buildllc.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-moma-the-museum-of-mediocre-aspirations/

Ontario’s Budget from an environment and cleantech industry perspective

Ontario has traditionally been Canada’s leader not only in manufacturing but also in environment and clean technology. The recent Federal Budget contained little in the way of funding or policy initiatives directed specifically towards Canada’s environment industry sector but, in a detailed review, we were able to find a significant number of budget initiatives that would help support the environment industry sector. The Ontario budget is equally sparse when it comes to new environmental funding and policy initiatives. Compared to the federal budget it contains fewer initiatives that will provide stimulus to the environment and cleantech industry sectors. Nevertheless, Ontario’s environment industry might do well to take note of some Ontario Budget initiatives:

  • more than $35 billion over the next three years in infrastructure investments focused on the most critical areas such as transportation, health care and education to support more than 100,000 jobs on average each year across the province
  •  the Province will parallel the 2013 federal budget proposal to extend to the end of 2015 the accelerated Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) for manufacturing and processing machinery and equipment. The accelerated CCA shortens to three years the period over which the cost of new machinery and equipment can be deducted for tax purposes.
  • $100 million for small and rural municipalities for a new, dedicated fund for municipal roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure. The Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Ministries of Transportation and Infrastructure will consult in the summer of 2013 on the design of the program and make funds available by October 1, 2013. This fund would be in addition to the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative, for which proposals were received by the Province in April 2013.
  • $13.5 million over three years to protect the quality and quantity of drinking water supply sources for the people of Ontario, working in partnership with small municipalities.
  • the Province is working with the federal government to put in place a new venture capital fund of up to $300 million in partnership with the private sector. This new Ontario-based fund would help strengthen Ontario’s venture capital industry, and help fund potential high-growth firms in the province.
  • working with business to expand market access for goods and services beyond Ontario’s borders to other provinces, the United States and emerging economies.
  • an increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption from $400,000 to $450,000 of payroll, beginning in 2014. The government also proposes to better target the exemption by eliminating it for private-sector employers with annual payrolls over $5 million.
  • Ontario will launch a certification program that pre‐qualifies potential investment sites as development ready to make them more attractive to foreign direct investment and domestic expansion projects. A pre‐qualified site will meet province‐wide requirements regarding utilities servicing, transportation and access, and related due diligence. The program will not only position communities to attract jobs and investment, it will also help to streamline the regulatory and administrative requirements placed on businesses
  • $10 million over two years to provide exceptional post-doctoral fellows with skills and experience to lead and manage industrial research, development and commercialization efforts, resulting in rapid commercialization of research and a boost to economic activity.
  • a Youth Employment Fund of $195 million over two years to create employment opportunities for 25,000 youth in Ontario. The province would provide hiring incentives to employers to offer young people in all regions of the province an entry point to long-term employment. Youth who participate in the program would learn life and work skills while earning income. It would also help employers better tap the youth talent available in the province.
  • the government is working with industry and First Nation communities to explore and develop mineral extraction opportunities in the Ring of Fire area in an environmentally sustainable way.
  • the Ontario government intends to extend for three years the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate (NIER) Program, which assists Northern Ontario’s largest industrial electricity users to reduce energy costs.
  • the Province is replacing coal-fired generation, and moving forward the closure date for Lambton and Nanticoke stations to the end of 2013. Ontario’s elimination of coal-fired electricity generation is the single largest greenhouse-gas reduction measure being undertaken in North America in this time frame.
  • as new investments in renewable generation unfold, the government will seek the involvement of communities to inform the process and ensure projects are successfully integrated in these areas
  • Ontario Power Generation’s supply chain operations could achieve greater savings through strategic sourcing of products and services. Hydro One could reduce costs in grid operations by improving the productivity in station maintenance. Hydro One could reduce capital costs through increased use of engineering, procurement, and construction suppliers.
  • Total infrastructure investments in 2012-2013 in the water-environment area were $256 million (interim).  Comparable total investments in 2013-2014 are budgeted at $149 million.
  • Ministry of the Environment spending was $529 million in 2011-2012, the interim figure for 2012-2013 is $486.0 million, and the budget for 2013-2014 is $495.2 million.
  • in the section of the Budget on Federal-Provincial relations the Ontario Government states “the federal government continues to provide significant support for energy sectors other than renewables, which does not meet the needs of Ontario. Enhanced federal support for clean energy would help Ontario transition to a low‐carbon economy. Ontario is seeking federal support and the appropriate regulatory environment for an east‐west transmission grid that would transmit electricity across provincial borders. Greater regional integration of electricity grids would encourage the development of new, larger‐scale renewable projects that would benefit the economy, both in Ontario and elsewhere in the country.
  • in 2002, biodiesel was made exempt from the 14.3 cent per litre fuel tax under the Fuel Tax Act to encourage its use in Ontario. The federal government’s renewable‐content requirements in respect of diesel fuel came into effect on July 1, 2011. As a result, Ontario’s fuel tax exemption for biodiesel no longer serves its purpose and will be repealed.
  • Ontario will consult with stakeholders on a provincial mandate for greener diesel fuels, including discussions related to the amount of renewable fuel content as well as greenhouse gas requirements.

Ready to install: renewable lighting for your paths and parking

Many industrial, commercial and institutional facilities need streetlights, or lighting similar to streetlights, for their parking lots and on-site roadways. Cost is often a problem, not just for the lights but also for the wiring and control systems.

A New York based company, Urban Green Energy, may have just the answer. It is a street light that needs no connections. The light is fully powered by a small windmill and a photovoltaic array mounted at the top of the light standard. According to the Company, the new lights have been installed as streetlights in PingQuan, China. The case study states that the UGE streetlights saved hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have been spent on trenching the wires to power typical lights, as well as ongoing electricity costs, meaning that they could go for a high quality, long lasting, aesthetic option at no more cost than a typical install.

The Company claims that the streetlights have been operating flawlessly since the installation took place in September 2012. The Manager of Procurement for the City of PingQuan is quoted as saying “We love it. We haven’t had a single issue since they were installed, and people ask about the project all the time. Almost every day we have people stopping to take pictures.”

Pingquan is on a latitude of 35°, not too far south of Toronto, so what works in PingQuan may work well in many parts of Canada. UGE has sales representatives throughout the US and even, to our amazement, in Canada.

The case study of this 100% renewable energy street lighting, and photos of the attractive lumieres,  is to be found at http://www.urbangreenenergy.com/case-studies and click on the image of the PingQuan streetlighting. A list of UGE sales distributors is at http://www.urbangreenenergy.com/commercial-uge-partners

European Environment Agency urges more effort to climate adaptation and suggests how

“Time to Adapt is the strident call of a report from the European Environment Agency. The report Adaptation in Europe is subtitled Addressing risks and opportunities from climate change in the context of socio-economic developments.

The report points out that

Climate change is now a major part of planning for the future. Around the world, the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident and as reported in the EEA’s 2012 Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe, climate change is already causing a wide range of impacts on society and the environment.

This is powerful stuff:

Adaptation is not simply about doing more, it is about new ways of thinking and dealing with risk and hazards, uncertainty and complexity. It will require greater public participation to address questions of social need and to find suitable adaptation pathways. European society has the opportunity to heed the lessons of past experience and adopt a precautionary approach, anticipating and minimising many future hazards whilst stimulating innovation. Climate adaptation requires precautionary science and approaches, with an emphasis on probability and multiple reactive thresholds, rather than a reliance on the statistics of the past.

No shrinking violets or climate change deniers here!

Some of the report’s conclusions, material to Canada just as much as to Europe, include:

  • Society is set to face many changes, including to its economy, population, environment, and climate. Adapting to these changes is a challenge and an opportunity and will require strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of economic sectors, cities and businesses. Adaptation provides an opportunity for synergies and spill‑over benefits when implementing adaptation measures in a coherent way, by ensuring that policies are integrated and working toward similar goals.
  • A key challenge for adaptation policy is to ensure policy coherence across many sectoral policies, integrating efforts to create a sustainable, resource-efficient, green, low-carbon, and climate-resilient economy.
  • Adaptation policy responses ought to be tailor‑made to address regional and local conditions and needs, and reject a one-size fits all approach. These responses must consider contextual factors such as socio-economic, technological, cultural, environmental and policy processes.
  • Adaptation policy responses ought to be flexible in taking into account the progress made in the scientific understanding of disaster risks, decadal climate variability, and long-term climate and socio-economic changes. This understanding is evolving and lessons are being learned from implementing actions. Adaptation policy must be flexible enough to deal with this. It is important to adopt an ‘adaptive management’ approach, which means adjusting our plans to these conditions as they unfold, taking account of uncertainty over future developments, and constantly updating adaptation policy with new information from monitoring, evaluation and learning.
  • This flexibility can also be helped by using different types of adaptation measures. For example, implementing a combination of ‘grey’ (i.e. technological and engineering solutions), ‘green’ (i.e. ecosystembased approaches) and ‘soft’ (i.e. managerial, legal and policy approaches) adaptation options is often a good way to deal with the inter-connections between natural systems and social systems.
  • The involvement of stakeholders (policymakers, NGOs, businesses, citizens) is important in creating a sense of ‘ownership’ in adaptation policy, a critical factor in the success of adaptation implementation. Stakeholder involvement also helps to improve the coherence of adaptation actions and builds adaptive capacity in the wider society. Further guidance on how to best involve stakeholders would be helpful to adaptation policymakers and other stakeholders alike.
  • Multi-level governance bridges the gaps between the different levels of policy and decision-making and provides opportunities for ensuring key actors are involved. It is also important that all levels of governance participate in adaptation implementation in a coordinated and coherent way.

The 106 page report can be downloaded from http://www.eea.europa.eu/pressroom/newsreleases/europe-must-adapt-to-stay