Car sharing could be a good GHG emission reduction strategy for business

Business consulting firm AlixPartners has recently announced the results of a car sharing study which finds that, in the United States, approximately 500,000 vehicle purchases have been avoided due to car sharing. The study suggests that as car sharing grows in popularity, it could account for approximately 1.2 million more automobile purchases avoided through 2020. The 10 key car-sharing markets covered in the AlixPartners survey, where car-sharing services have achieved a degree of scale, were Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Miami; New York; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; San Francisco-Oakland; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. AlixPartners suggests that automobile manufacturers need to take the growth of car sharing into account in their business strategies.

As we have previously reported in Gallon Environment Letter, some large leading companies have already implemented programs to encourage car sharing among their employees. Companies located in city centres are more likely to encourage public transit use but for those located in suburban areas, where transit services offer less comprehensive coverage, car sharing can be an environmentally and economically appropriate strategy. Among the elements of a company-sponsored program:

  • priority parking for car pooled vehicles
  • company implementation of an electronic car pooling bulletin board system
  • employee education explaining the benefits of car sharing
  • recommendations for fuel, car maintenance and insurance cost sharing
  • other incentives, eg gasoline discount cards, for car pool participants
  • a small number of vehicles available to employees for use in critical situations such as a sick child being sent home from daycare or school.

Benefits to companies and employees include:

  • fewer employees arriving stressed out from driving
  • improvements to collegiality among employees
  • reduction in congestion on roads leading to the company facility
  • reduction in vehicle related air pollution and dust in the area of the facility
  • lower costs of commuting = more money in employee pockets with no increase in personal income taxes paid
  • a low cost benefit that can help improve employee satisfaction with their workplace
  • a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that can be announced by the company for car sharing rides that are arranged through its bulletin board system.

Announcement of the AlixPartners study is at: http://www.alixpartners.com/en/MediaCenter/PressReleases/tabid/821/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/950/AlixPartners-Study-Indicates-Greater-Negative-Effect-of-Car-Sharing-on-Vehicle-Purchases.aspx\

The above bulleted suggestions are from GallonDaily’s own research and are not part of the AlixPartners announcement.

US Secretary of State Kerry issues order for strong action on climate change

On March 7 US Secretary of State John Kerry ordered all US diplomats to elevate the priority given to climate change “in everything we do”. In addition to international diplomatic efforts to maker progress on climate change the memo gives some information on the direction that the Obama administration is likely to pursue in its domestic policies.

Elements of the instruction include:

  1. Lead by example through strong action at home and abroad: Making significant progress in combating climate change through domestic actions within the Department and at the federal, regional, and local level.
  2. Conclude a new international climate change agreement: Working through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to negotiate a new, ambitious international climate agreement applicable to all countries by 2015 to take effect in 2020.
  3. Implement the Global Climate Change Initiative: Undertaking a pragmatic, whole-of-government approach to speed the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future, including (1) promoting clean energy solutions; (2) slowing, halting, and reversing emissions from land use; and (3) helping the most vulnerable countries strengthen climate resilience.
  4. Enhance multilateral engagement: Helping lead efforts including the Major Economies Forum, Clean Energy Ministerial, Montreal Protocol, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants.
  5. Expand bilateral engagement: Engaging more than 50 partner countries on clean energy, sustainable landscapes, and adaptation, including the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the developing world.
  6. Mobilize financial resources: Working to mobilize and leverage billions of dollars of funding to transform our energy economies and promote sustainable land use, as well as working to limit public incentives for high-carbon energy production and fossil fuels.
  7. Integrate climate change with other priorities: Better integrating climate solutions into cross-cutting challenges, including women’s empowerment, urbanization, conflict and national security, and our own management and operations.

The full announcement is at http://blogs.state.gov/stories/2014/03/07/we-need-elevate-environment-everything-we-do

How well do we understand water use?

Another interesting study, again of Americans rather than Canadians, suggests that we have a fairly poor perception of where in our daily lives we use water. This could have important, and not very helpful, consequences for increasingly needed water conservation initiatives.

The study, by Professor Shahzeen Z. Attari of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, is based on an online survey of 1020 Americans and shows that people underestimate water use by a factor of 2 on average, with large underestimates for high water-use activities. In addition, there is poor understanding of embodied water content in food products.

According to the paper, previous research estimated that 13.2 gallons of clean water are required per person per day for human needs (drinking, sanitation, hygiene, and food preparation). In 2005, the average American used about 98 gallons of water per day, of which about 70% was used indoors. An open ended question indicated that Americans view shorter or fewer showers, turning off water while doing other activities (not including brushing teeth), and turning off water while brushing teeth s by far the most effective water conservation measures. In fact, according to US Environmental Protection Agency, toilets use the most volume of water of household indoor activities and their suggested retrofit is the top recommendation made. However, “buying water-efficient appliances and fixtures” along with “water-efficient toilet” and “flushing less” are among the actions least-mentioned by study participants.

The study identifies several weaknesses such as small sample size and the lack of rigour of internet-based survey methodologies. Nevertheless, the research suggests that there is a lot of room for improved public education about water supply and use issues. GallonDaily finds it interesting that shower use comes out at the top of public perception of household water use. There has been much more publicity and advertising about shower use and low flow showerheads than there has about low-flush toilets and toilet water efficiency. Ngos, municipalities, and toilet manufacturers might do well to take note of these issues when planning education and marketing campaigns.

The paper is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/26/1316402111.full.pdf+html?sid=6aeca015-6cac-44de-934d-af4a7866427d

For those interested in this type of research, the same researcher in 2010 published a similarly interesting study about public perceptions of energy efficiency opportunities. That study can be found at http://www.pnas.org/content/107/37/16054.full.pdf+html?sid=6aeca015-6cac-44de-934d-af4a7866427d

Sustainability in Packaging conference highlights key waste issues

The 3-day Smithers PIRA Sustainability in Packaging conference is wrapping up in Orlando today having highlighted some of the most contentious of the many issues in packaging and recycling today. One of the strengths of the conference is that it includes environmentalists, local government (one rep), and industry.

Among the highlights of the conference as seen by GallonDaily:

  • Consumer perspectives on packaging and the environment: clearly seeking increased recycling and packaging reduction.
  • AMPAC and others speaking on recent trends in flexible packaging: lighter weight packaging protects products more effectively but may pose recycling challenges. This session provoked some lively discussion between industry and environmental ngo’s.
  • Some innovative bio-based packaging materials, though validation of the environmental benefits of these seemed to GallonDaily to be a bit thin.
  • An entire session on marine debris, especially plastics, led to another lively discussion between environmentalists and industry, though all parties seemed to agree that the problem is real and serious.
  • Dick Lilly of Seattle Public Utilities explaining his view of Extended Producer Responsibility and how some current models fail to give sufficient control to municipalities.
  • Allen Langdon on MMBC seeking to explain the highly controversial British Columbia Extended Producer Responsibility model.

GallonDaily was surprised, but perhaps should not have been, by the number of industry speakers who showed little understanding of the environmental issues surrounding their packaging products. Different companies disagreed on appropriate solutions. Until industry develops a more coordinated position and achieves environmentalist and consumer buy-in for that material, governments will continue to set the pace for regulation of end-of-life management of packaging materials.

This is a GallonDaily report from the conference floor. The full conference program is available at http://www.sustainability-in-packaging.com/home.aspx

Portable power from fuel cells

Portable gasoline and diesel powered generators are often used to provide power at outdoor events with locations distant from a grid power connection. One of the many such examples is the Daytona 500 car races in Florida.

This year the US Department of Energy, NASCAR, and Acumentrics, a manufacturer of small fuel cells, have teamed up for a pilot project using fuel cells for remote video cameras and lighting at the Daytona 500 speedway track. Acumentrics will use two 250 watt solid oxide fuel cells to power some of the remote broadcast cameras and two 1 kilowatt solid oxide fuel cells to power lights in pit row.

According to the US DOE announcement:

  • fuel cells are more efficient and quiet, making them a cleaner alternative to gasoline-powered generators.
  • fuel cell units could save more than $2,000 per race weekend through reduced fuel use.
  • fuel cell generators only have to be refuelled once per weekend, rather than every 8 – 12 hours as with a gasoline generator, improving race safety and logistics.

More details about the project from the US Department of Energy can be found at http://www.energy.gov/articles/nascar-green-gets-first-place-daytona-500

Wind turbines are more widespread in the US than many have recognized

As part of a project to develop a methodology for assessing wind energy impacts on wildlife at a national scale the US Geological Survey has inventoried and mapped all of the industrial scale wind turbines in the US. The dataset includes the following data for almost 48,000 wind turbines:

  • location
  • startup year
  • manufacturer
  • model
  • tower type
  • height
  • rotor diameter

and more. Data may not be complete for every turbine. A descriptive summary and a link to the dataset can be found at http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/mapping-the-nations-wind-turbines/

USGS has gone further by plotting the locations of all turbines on a map. This map is available at http://eerscmap.usgs.gov/windfarm/

To GallonDaily’s knowledge, no similar dataset of industrial scale wind turbines exists for Canada.

Conference promotes move to bioproducts

The Growing Sustainable Bioeconomies – Making it Happen conference and expo opened today in London, Ontario with a spirited call for more government attention for the bioproducts sector. W. Scott Thurlow, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association,  Thurlow claimed that:

  • the biofuels industry is the anchor tenant of the bioeconomy,
  • bioethanol is now cheaper than gasoline.
  • 1 billion litres of ethanol per year is now imported from the US, meaning excellent opportunities for ethanol producers in Canada.
  • the food versus fuel debate is just plain wrong.
  • a larger share of profit for the ethanol industry comes from the sale of dried distiller grains, something that was previously considered a byproduct from bioethanol production.
  • the bioeconomy is about conversion of existing production from fossil to bio resources and about developing new products that are based on renewable rather than fossil resources.

The CRFA is pushing hard for updating of the biodiesel mandate in Canada, currently standing at 2% of diesel fuel sales. Thurlow stated that the glycerin byproduct from biodiesel production is where the money is, more than in the biodiesel itself. Biodiesel also provides a useful outlet for waste materials such as cooking oils.

Other plenary speakers discussed composites and biogas from agricultural waste materials.

This report is a GallonDaily exclusive filed live from the Conference. See http://www.gtmconference.ca/ for conference details.