Global environmental consulting industry continues healthy growth

The UK-based business research organization Environmental Analyst has just published its 2013 assessment of the global environmental consultancy market. Among the key points:

  • the global environmental consultancy (EC) market saw a 3.6% increase in 2012, to reach US$27.4 billion.
  • the global EC market is forecast to reach $31.7 billion by 2017.
  • the top 20 firms  ranked in terms of gross global EC revenues are CH2M Hill, Tetra Tech Inc, URS Corporation, Golder Associates, AECOM, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), Arcadis, AMEC Environment & Infrastructure, MWH Global, Cardno, Grontmij NV, RPS Group, SKM Consulting, ENVIRON, WorleyParsons, WSP Environment and Energy/GENIVAR, Parsons Brinckerhoff, ICF International, Mott MacDonald, and ATKINS.
  • North America remains the market’s biggest regional market by far, accounting for a dominant 58% of the total market, considerably ahead of West Europe and Asia-Pacific both with around 15%. Africa & Middle East, Latin America and East Europe/Former Soviet Union all take 5% or less.
  • demand from Asia-Pacific was found to have softened considerably, with the regional market growth slowing to just 2% in 2012 compared to 7% in 2011. This in part reflects the constrained Australian mining sector and deceleration of China’s economy and therefore demand for commodities.
  • contaminated land services have overtaken water and waste management services as the largest single service area within the global environmental consulting market in 2012, representing some 29% in total, ahead of the 24% share held by water and waste management.
  • environmental impact assessment & sustainable development takes a further 17% whilst environmental management, compliance and due diligence services represent just over 15%. Climate change & energy related services generated a further 9.4% of the total.

A summary of the report (free) and a link to the full report (purchase or subscription required) is available at 

Misleading environmental news

Most GallonDaily readers probably already know not to believe everything they read in the press, but recent news coverage of the West Virginia chemical spill shows just how misleading the press can be.

Today major news outlet CNN is carrying headlines ‘West Virginia Water Restrictions are Ending’ and ‘Water Safe Again in West Virginia’. National Geographic Daily News has announced “On Monday, the 300,000 residents of nine counties in West Virginia were told that they could resume drinking and using their tap water.” In GallonDaily’s opinion the headlines fail to make clear that contaminated water warnings, resulting from a major spill in the region, are being ended district by district and that more customers are still under a water use ban than have been given clearance to use the piped water. CNN might seek to make the case that people in the affected area will know that the restrictions are being lifted zone by zone or that the story implies that the restrictions are being lifted zone by zone, but to GallonDaily the headline is potentially misleading and the story unclear, particularly for less well educated residents who may believe the headlines that they see on CNN or read on its website.

Credit to CNN for having other stories that are much more clear about the ongoing water restrictions in West Virginia, and noting also that some other media have headlines and stories that are no more clear than this CNN story, but what of the resident who reads one of these headlines and, believing the news source to be reliable, drinks contaminated water from their tap?

These problems arise for two reasons. First, media companies have largely cut back on environment and science expertise. Dramatic headlines are much more the order of the day and few outlets give thought to whether readers will gain an accurate understanding of a situation by glancing at a headline. Proliferation of media continues to make this situation even worse with precious few reporters having any technical expertise at all. Indeed, some publishers and editors believe that better news is reported if journalists know nothing about the topics on which they are reporting. Second, organizations releasing news are also losing their expertise, either to external public relations firms or to politicians. The main source of information about the West Virginia chemical spill has been Governor Earl Tomblin. Tomblin has been in politics for 40 years, having previously been a self-employed businessman and school teacher. There’s not much in his background that would lead him to have expertise in the health impacts of toxic chemicals in drinking water! GallonDaily suggests that society, and especially businesses when distributing news, should reject grandstanding by politicians and should steer the microphones to people who have expertise in the subject under discussion. To give West Virginia American Water, the private sector operator of drinking water plants in the affected area, their news releases and other communications about the consequences of the spill have been exemplary.

The CNN story mentioned in this article can be read at The national geographic daily News article is at West Virginia American Water has its news releases on its website at

And a footnote:  the National Geographic Daily News article states that Environmental Working Group staff member Sonya Lunder said, “If it had been 5,000 gallons of dioxin, a persistent and highly toxic chemical, it would have been terrible,” Lunder should know better and maybe (hopefully!) she has been misquoted. Dioxin has never been manufactured as an industrial chemical, it occurs only as an unwanted byproduct, and there is no such things as a stockpile of 5,000 gallons anywhere in the United States. The 1976 Seveso disaster, which led to the highest ever exposure of residential populations to dioxin, an extremely toxic substance, involved one kilogram of the chemical. Fie on EWG for outrageous exaggeration!

New York City bans polystyrene and requires commercial composting of food scraps

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a very reputable ngo, New York City Council voted just before Christmas to ban polystyrene foam food containers and packaging ‘peanuts’ and to require large food establishments to compost all food waste.

There are some conditions on the legislation. The polystyrene bill, passed unanimously, will prohibit restaurants, coffee shops and food stands from dispensing polystyrene foam food and beverage containers after July 1, 2015 unless the Sanitation Commissioner determines that such containers can be recycled in a manner that is “environmentally effective” and “economically feasible”. NRDC claims that other cities – most recently San Jose — have explored whether recycling is feasible for polystyrene foam food containers and have concluded that it is not. A count by NRDC states that nearly 100 cities and towns in the US, including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, have banned polystyrene food and beverages containers. The New York bill also bans the sale of polystyrene foam packing peanuts.

The major focus of the polystyrene ban appears to be to reduce litter. GallonDaily suggests that past efforts to remove polystyrene foam fast food containers has led to their replacement with even less recyclable materials. Polystyrene foam is easily recycled but the economics are not good due to the very small amount of material that is actually present. Coated paper, coated boxboard, and many other alternative hot food and beverage containers are even less easily recycled than polystyrene foam. In addition, they are just as easily littered by those who do not care about litter, though their lifetimes as litter may be somewhat shorter than the lifetime of polystyrene foam litter. What the world needs is an easily recycled or composted hot food container with the lowest possible lifecycle environmental impact and for littering to become a highly socially unacceptable activity.

The composting bill, reportedly passed by a vote of 48-3, will require large restaurants, catering establishments, food wholesalers, grocery stores, stadiums, etc. to arrange for the food waste they produce to be collected for and/or disposed of by composting or similarly sustainable methods starting in July 2015, assuming sufficient capacity to accept such compostable wastes exists or is created by then within the metropolitan area. GallonDaily commends the Council for a passing a bill that should lead to establishment of additional economically viable composting and anaerobic digestion facilities in the New York City area, something that has been a challenge in the past for those in the City who seek to compost their waste materials..

The NRDC report is at

International accounting organization offers advice on materiality of natural capital

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, which describes itself as the global body for professional accountants, has recently issued a briefing paper entitled Identifying natural capital risk and materiality. Materiality is an accounting term essentially describing those issues that are most relevant to an organisation in order to inform decision making and reporting. In other words, is it important to our organization?

The briefing paper seeks to identify those aspects of natural capital that may reasonably be considered important for reflecting the organisation’s economic, environmental and social impacts, or influencing the decisions of stakeholders, and, therefore, potentially merit inclusion in reporting. The paper suggests:

  • The use of tools and guidelines when performing materiality assessments increases the comparability and credibility of a report, providing a systematic way for companies to identify matters to report.
  • Engaging with stakeholders allows companies to assess the topics that are important to the groups they affect, and to tailor their reports accordingly. Being transparent about who was consulted allows readers to judge the range of views represented in the materiality assessment, and thus its completeness.
  • Natural-capital-related issues can affect companies in the short, medium and long term. Therefore, a company taking a longer view when assessing its material issues will be more likely to identify natural capital as a material issue.
  • Natural-capital-related issues can affect companies in the short, medium and long term. Therefore, a company taking a longer view when assessing its material issues will be more likely to identify natural capital as a material issue.
  • The process of identifying natural capital in risk assessments helps identify evolving risk-management issues related to natural capital that could affect an organisation’s operations, allowing the organisation to develop and prepare for such issues, and potentially identify opportunities for product or process development.

The briefing paper recommends that companies should:

  • define materiality in a way suited to the business model
  • be transparent over the materiality process and how external guidelines or tools have been applied
  • link stakeholder engagement processes to the identification of natural capital material issues, and explain how the former inform the risk-assessment processes
  • specify which natural capital issues are material (e.g. biodiversity, water, etc.) to the organisation, and develop goals/strategies for how to manage these
  • report on those natural capital issues that are material to the organisation in more detail
  • connect identified natural capital material issues to their long-term risk assessment process and, if material,
  • explicitly incorporate natural capital risk analysis into relevant governance structures.

The 6 page briefing paper is available at A summary from ACCA is available at

Addressing household carbon footprints in suburban areas

New research from University of California, Berkeley, shows that, based on econometric modelling, households in the suburbs surrounding US large cities have a household carbon footprint that is significantly larger than that of households in the more dense city centres. That larger household carbon footprint is primarily the result of consumption of energy, transportation, food, goods and services. The primary drivers of household carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs.

That suburbs have a higher household carbon footprint based on these measures should be no surprise. People who live in highrise apartments and high density street level homes frequently access daily needs, workplaces, and schools more efficiently than those who live in the sprawl. It should be noted that the study is based on economic models, not measurements which are difficult for greenhouse gas emissions, and that it does not sufficiently consider the carbon sequestration effects of biomass in the suburbs. Despite these limitations, GallonDaily sees no need to doubt the overall findings.

The authors urge that these data should be taken into account when planning GHG mitigation efforts. They state that increasing population density alone, either in the inner city or in the suburbs, appears not to be a very effective strategy for reducing emissions. They state that a 10-fold increase in population density in central cities corresponds to only 25 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, and population dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs, due largely to higher incomes and resulting consumption.

The project team has developed and published a tool that calculates carbon footprints for essentially every populated U.S. zip code, city, county and U.S. state as well as an interactive online map allowing users to zoom in and out of different locations. Households and cities can calculate their own carbon footprints to see how they compare to their neighbours and create customized climate action plans from over 40 mitigation options. What a shame that no similar tool is available for cities and towns in Canada.

The authors argue that cities need to step out of traditional roles in planning urban infrastructure and learn how to better understand the needs of residents in order to craft policies and programs that enable the adoption of energy and carbon-efficient technologies and practices. They claim that when you package low-carbon technologies together you find real financial savings and big social and environmental benefits.

This type of analysis is likely to have a big impact in future as states, provinces and municipalities become more engaged with GHG emissions reduction. GallonDaily surmises that cities of the future may become much more clusters of urban communities rather than urban centres surrounded by suburbs. Maybe employers in future will draw their employees much more from the immediate community rather than from across the urban sprawl.  Data such as that compiled by this research team will almost certainly play an important role in the evolution of urban areas.

An extended abstract of the UC Berkeley research and a link to the household carbon footprint calculator and mitigation tool is available at

The research paper (fee or subscription required) and an academic abstract are available at

Intel raises the bar for socially responsible IT equipment

Intel announced at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that its products are now free of components made from conflict minerals. Many Canadians will be familiar with the concept of conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, the proceeds of sale of which are used to finance wars and insurgencies in several parts of Africa, but fewer are likely to know that proceeds of sale of many scarce minerals also finance conflicts and that the metals involved often end up in consumer electronics.

Intel has announced that it has developed and implemented systems and processes to ensure that the gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten used in its products are not inadvertently supporting conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the source of much of these metals. Intel also claims that its approach has not been to simply boycott purchases of these metals from the DRC but to ensure that its purchases of these metals are helping to alleviate poverty in the DRC and not going to finance war.

Despite its size, Intel by itself cannot put a stop to conflict minerals, but by making conflict free electronic equipment, cell phones and computers as well as components, available to business, the entire global community of socially responsible businesses will be able to make a big difference. The availability of conflict free IT equipment means that all those companies that claim to have socially responsible supply chains, for example by ensuring that child labour is not involved in their supply chain, by publishing an annual social responsibility report, or by subscribing to a social responsibility reporting protocol such as the Global Reporting Initiative, should now purchase only IT equipment that is certified conflict free. Failure to do so could attract criticism for not living up to published social responsibility goals.

If the thousands of companies that claim to subscribe to social responsibility guidelines ask their IT suppliers to provide only certified conflict free equipment it will not be too long before all major IT manufacturers follow the Intel lead. At that time the market for conflict minerals will decline significantly and the flow of money that funds conflicts will also decline. Perhaps even more importantly, more of the proceeds of mining will go towards alleviating poverty in central Africa.

GallonDaily notes that, while Intel deserves credit for ensuring that its products are free of conflict minerals, industry attention has been drawn to this issue by a clause added to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act by former Senator Sam Brownback (Republican – Kansas) that was signed into federal law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.

Information on Intel’s initiative, from before the CES announcement, is at

Intel has posted a short informative video on this subject at

Concern over marine pollution by plastic will almost certainly grow

A recent study of the River Thames in London, UK, found ” that a large unseen volume of submerged plastic is flowing into the marine environment”. Over a three month period, nets attached to the river bed caught 8,490 submerged items, most of which were of some type of plastic. The most contaminated sites were in the vicinity of sewage treatment works. More than 20% of the items were components of sanitary products. While floating litter is visible, the authors claim that this study demonstrates that a large unseen volume of submerged plastic is flowing into the marine environment.

The frequency of articles of this kind is increasing and the study undertaken by the Royal Holloway college researchers is easily replicated by groups all over the world. GallonDaily has little doubt that the research will be replicated and that similar results will be found in many rivers that flow through urban areas.

The challenge is what to do to mitigate or eliminate the problem. Another recent review paper by a scientist in the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, New Zealand, claims to discuss some of the ways to mitigate the problem but its proposals are somewhat limited:

  • more research to assess the actual threat posed by plastic debris to marine species;
  • more international legislation such as the 1978 Protocol to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, but the existing Protocol is widely ignored;
  • more national legislation, but this comes with the big challenge of enforcing it in an area as vast as the world’s oceans;
  • education is also a very powerful tool to address the issue. Since land-based sources provide major inputs of plastic debris into the oceans, if a community becomes aware of the problem, and obviously willing to act upon it, it can actually make a significant difference.
  • biodegradable and photodegradable plastics, but the effects of the final degradation products of those materials are not yet known, and there is the danger of substituting one problem for another.

Though we have some doubts about the effectiveness of the initiatives presented in the review paper, GallonDaily concurs that the environmental hazards that threaten the oceans’ biodiversity, such as the pollution by plastic debris, must be urgently addressed. Almost all industry is engaged with plastics in one form or another. A major Canadian initiative to identify and implement ways to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the problem of marine pollution by plastics could play a valuable role.

The River Thames study is available at The abstract is free, a subscription or a fee is required for the full paper.

The paper The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review is available at no cost at

Alliance to Save Energy promotes some valuable New Year resolutions

The Washington D.C. based non-profit Alliance to Save Energy is making some useful suggestions for New Year energy saving resolutions:

  • if bad weather is keeping you from running for exercise, think twice before using that treadmill in the basement. ASE states that average treadmill uses between 600 and 700 watts of energy. Elliptical machines and stationary bikes are generally a much more energy-efficient choice.
  • when travelling, consider taking a bus or a train instead of flying, as these modes of transportation are generally more energy-efficient. If you do fly, check out the International Council on Clean Transportation’s rankings of the most fuel efficient airlines.
  • Seal your home’s air leaks; add insulation to your home; install and set a programmable thermostat; put in energy saving window treatments.
  • advocating for energy efficiency policies is a great way to become more politically active and help your community.
  • energy efficiency has a huge untapped potential: if the U.S. doubled its energy productivity by 2030, America could save $327 billion a year by 2030. That translates to $1,039 a year for each household…which would be enough to pay off all existing American household credit card debt!

More details, and more suggestions, at

Useful ideas for greener cities from the Canada West Foundation

A recent report from the Canada West Foundation provides some constructive suggestions for improving urban environmental performance. With a focus on western Canada but with an approach that can be useful to a much broader audience, the report starts by noting that

As long as decisions that affect our urban areas are based on short-term returns, we will never have truly great (not to mention green) cities in western Canada.

This naturally leads to the recommendation that ‘truly great cities’ are

only possible if residents and policymakers shift their focus from the initial costs and challenges of implementing new approaches to the long-term benefits. We have to curb our impatience and be willing to pay upfront for benefits that take time to accrue.

The well-written report identifies barriers as well as opportunities to successful urban environmental policies. Among the latter are:

  • The development of a long-term green growth strategy that integrates the health of the environment and the economy. The strategy should be developed through genuine resident and stakeholder engagement, be a decision-making tool that provides a clear roadmap of where the city should go and how to get there and recognize the jurisdictional challenges cities face vis-à-vis their provincial governments.
  • The inclusion of more rigorous environmental measures in building codes, the implementation of retrofit programs and environmental certification of new city-owned buildings. As significant users of energy and other resources, changing the way buildings are constructed and operated can result in demonstrable improvements to urban environmental performance.
  • The use of green incentives and pilot projects to encourage environmental action. When used wisely, green incentives can promote the use of best environmental practices, spur the market to reach desired outcomes, and find innovative, win-win solutions to urban environmental challenges. The use of pilot projects that clearly demonstrate the “doability” and benefits of green initiatives are essential to convincing skeptical residents, builders and policymakers.

The report also notes that all of these options are subject to a fundamental caveat: they should only be pursued after

  1. solid return-on-investment (ROI) analysis confirms that the short-term costs are likely to be outweighed by the long-term benefits; and,
  2. appropriate measurement and reporting mechanisms are in place to assess the outcomes of the policy changes.

Better data on economic returns and quality of life improvements will, in part, address the missing link, but it will be up to citizens to forego instant gratification in favour of benefits that take time to materialize. Against this background, the report notes that each of the options outlined is relatively easy to implement (their italics)! GallonDaily is particularly attracted to the headline embedded in the report: Cities have the opportunity to create a virtuous circle toward green growth.

The report is available for download from

Los Angeles becomes first North American city to require ‘cool roofs’ on homes

Last month the City of Los Angeles passed amendments to its building code requiring ‘cool roofs’ on all new and refurbished homes. The amendment requires that roofing materials have a minimum solar reflectance, maintained for at least 3 years of aging, and a Cool Roof Rating Council initial or aged thermal emittance of at least a specified value. Exceptions are provided for roof repair, roof partial replacement, and building-integrated photovoltaics.

The Los Angeles ngo Climate Resolve, which has been pushing for this initiative, claims that the ordinance will help Los Angeles:

  • become more resilient and healthier on hot days
  • reduce heat related hospitalizations
  • improve air quality by reducing the formation of ozone
  • inoculate against power outages
  • reduce homeowners electricity bills
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • provide a more pleasant home environment

A cool roof uses material that naturally reflects sunlight as opposed to absorbing the sun’s radiant energy. The result can be more than 50°F cooler on the surface of the roof during a hot summer day and can cool the interiors of buildings by several degrees Fahrenheit, reducing chances of heat-related injuries or deaths.

Climate Resolve states that the ordinance will not be an economic burden for homeowners because the City has expanded its cool roof incentives, making the difference between a cool and hot roof cost neutral.

Details of the City Council action can be found in the staff report at . More about Climate Resolve’s cool roofs campaign is available at . Details on cool roof rated products can be found at . Note that ratings provide numeric values only, not pass-fail standards, and that these relate only to roofing products in the US market. Ratings may not apply to Canadian products. For reference when interpreting the Cool Roof Rating Council’s ratings, Los Angeles requirements are minimum thermal emittance of 0.75 and minimum 3-year aged solar reflectance of 0.63 for flat and low slope roofs and 0.20 for roofs with a higher slope.