President Obama’s Walmart gig

Media in both Canada and the US have made much of the fact that President Obama visited a Walmart store in Mountain View, California, to make a series of announcements forming part of his administration’s climate change strategy. Much of the coverage seemed to imply criticism of his choice of Walmart for the announcement while ignoring details of the content of the announcement.

As all readers will be aware, Obama has understandably concluded that the chance of getting climate legislation through Congress in this session is essentially zero. His plans therefore focus on initiatives that he can implement by Administrative Order. Key elements of the new announcement include:

  • To enable a skilled workforce to support the growth of solar deployment across America, the DOE’s Solar Instructor Training Network will support training programs at community colleges across the country that will assist 50,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020.
  • Building on the success of the Defense Department’s coordinated efforts to purchase renewables – and leverage its buying power to deploy clean energy technologies like solar – the General Services Administration is identifying opportunities for potential Federal Aggregated Solar Procurements in both the National Capital Region and Northern California.
  • The Treasury Department and IRS will shortly clarify how certain investment rules relate to renewable energy installations. This is important because real estate investment trusts (REITs), a key component of many retail investors’ portfolios, generally hold only real property. The new guidance will provide clarity regarding the treatment of renewable energy installations in REITs, thereby helping to promote investment in the sector.
  • An additional $2 billion goal in federal energy efficiency upgrades to Federal buildings over the next 3 years.
  • A High Performance Outdoor Lighting Accelerator to increase the adoption and use of high efficiency outdoor lighting in the public sector. This Accelerator is aimed at replacing more than 500,000 outdoor lighting poles and developing best practice approaches to municipal system-wide upgrades.
  • Two final energy efficiency conservation standards: one for electric motors, which are frequently used to power devices such as conveyor belts and escalators, another standard for walk-in coolers and freezers, such as those used to display milk in supermarkets.
  • Preliminary affirmation that industry’s latest commercial building energy code – the 2013 edition of ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 – will provide an additional 8.5 percent energy savings over the previous Standard, and up to 30 percent savings compared to today’s predominant state energy codes.
  • Fannie Mae and HUD/The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will be expanding the Green Preservation Plus program, an enhanced financing option aimed at preserving quality affordable housing by encouraging the investment in energy- and water-saving property improvements.

The President’s announcement also reported renewable energy and energy and efficiency commitments from several dozen private sector leaders in housing, homebuilding, commercial and industrial sectors. The complete announcement is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/09/fact-sheet-president-obama-announces-commitments-and-executive-actions-a

Electricity likely to play a key role in future energy systems, says IEA

The International Energy Agency, an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries including Canada and the USA, has published a report Energy Technology Perspectives 2014 which seeks to chart a course by which policy and technology together become driving forces – rather than reactionary tools – in transforming the energy sector over the next 40 years. According to the report electricity is likely to be an increasingly important vector in energy systems of the future. The report looks at more than 500 technology options, exploring pathways to a sustainable energy future in which policy support and technology choices are driven by economics, energy security and environmental factors. Interestingly the low carbon option confirms that global population and economic growth can be decoupled from energy demand, even for oil. Among the findings:

  • Solar, hydropower and onshore wind are presently forging ahead, while development is mixed for other clean energy supply.
  • Emerging economies have stepped up their ambitions and become leaders in deploying low-carbon energy technologies.
  • Continued increase in coal use counteracts emissions reduction from recent progress in the deployment of renewables, underlining the need to improve coal plant efficiency and scale up carbon capture and storage.
  • Fossil fuel use decreases by 2050 in the 2DS (the low carbon scenario), but its share of primary energy supply remains above 40%, reflecting its particularly important role for use in industry, transport and electricity generation.
  • Energy efficiency makes the largest contribution to global emissions reduction in the 2DS, but needs to be combined with other technologies to meet long term targets.
  • Globally, growth in electricity demand is outpacing all other final energy carriers; this creates potential for radically transforming both energy supply and end use.
  • The transition to electrification is not neutral: in fact, decarbonisation requires a massive reversal of recent trends that have shown continued reliance on unabated fossil fuels for generation.
  • Impressive deployment of renewable technologies is beginning to shape a substantially different future in supply.
  • Over the medium term, the 2DS sees strong interplay between variable renewables and the flexibility of natural gas to supply both base-load and balancing generation.
  • Natural gas should be seen only as a bridge to cleaner energy technologies unless CCS is deployed.
  • Decarbonising the electricity sector can deliver the spillover effect of reducing emissions from end-use sectors, without needing further end-use investments.
  • Increased electrification of buildings through the deployment of heat pumps as part of a comprehensive approach to improving buildings energy efficiency can significantly displace natural gas demand.
  • Electrification of transport, together with improved fuel economy, fuel switching and new vehicle technologies, substantially reduces transport sector oil use in the 2DS without considerably increasing overall electricity demand.
  • The USD 44 trillion (real 2012 USD) additional investment needed to decarbonise the energy system in line with the 2DS by 2050 is more than offset by over USD 115 trillion in fuel savings – resulting in net savings of USD 71 trillion.
  • Regulation and market transformation can help or hinder the potential of individual technologies, including their competitiveness.
  • Without the stimulus of carbon pricing, alternative policy instruments will be necessary to trigger low-carbon investment in competitive markets.

The full 382 page report (PDF €120), a free 10 page Executive Summary and other associated documents are available at http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2014/may/name,51005,en.html 

Water projects may be providing people with contaminated water

Our parallel publication GallonLetter has previously expressed concern about the lack of quality control of drinking water projects in developing countries. Now a scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal has echoed that concern.

Authors from The Water Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Southampton University, and the charity WaterAid UK, have reviewed the literature to determine whether water from “improved” sources is less likely to contain fecal contamination than “unimproved” sources and to assess the extent to which contamination varies by source type and setting. The “use of an improved source” terminology comes from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, both of which organizations use it as an indicator even though it does not take into account water quality measurements.

The study, which included data on 96,737 water samples taken from water projects in low and medium income countries, found that:

  • the odds of contamination were considerably lower for “improved” sources than “unimproved” sources.
  • however, over a quarter of samples from improved sources contained fecal contamination.
  • water sources in low-income countries and rural areas were more likely to be contaminated.
  • studies rarely reported stored water quality or sanitary risks and few achieved robust random selection.
  • safety may be overestimated due to infrequent water sampling and deterioration in quality prior to consumption.

The study concluded that:

  • access to an “improved source” (piped water into a dwelling, yard, or plot, or a standpipe, borehole, and protected dug well) provides a measure of sanitary protection but does not ensure water is free of fecal contamination nor is it consistent between source types or settings.
  • international estimates greatly overstate use of safe drinking-water and do not fully reflect disparities in access.
  • an enhanced monitoring strategy would combine indicators of sanitary protection with measures of water quality.

Many of these “improved” water projects have been completed by ngos, government and UN agencies, and others seeking to provide assistance to people in developing countries. But providing a developing country community with water from an “improved” source that is still harmful to human health because of the presence of bacterial contamination is, in GallonDaily’s opinion, unethical and should be criminal. The editors of the PLOS Medicine journal point out that  by equating “improved” with “safe,” the number of people with access to a safe water source has been greatly overstated, and suggests that a large number and proportion of the world’s population use unsafe water. This problem will not be solved by implementing more “improved” water projects that provide unsafe water. Millennium Development Goal target 7c aims to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking-water but progress towards that goal is almost certainly overstated because international agencies use the “improved” water source indicator rather than a “safe” drinking water source indicator.

Many individuals and organizations provide financial and other support to organizations committed to bringing drinking water to less developed countries. However, this study shows that digging wells, providing pumps, and “improving” water sources in other ways does not mean that the provided water is fit for human consumption or that the incidence of water-borne disease is reduced. Gallondaily urges those supporting providers of water to developing country communities to make sure that the organizations are testing the water to ensure that it is fit for human consumption. If not, transfer the support to an organization that behaves in a more responsible, and ethical, manner.

An abstract and the full article are available at http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001644

 

Promotional products are rarely, if ever, good for the environment

Yesterday morning GallonDaily’s editor received an unsolicited call from a company which claims to offer ‘promotional products from over 3000 suppliers’ and ‘exclusive to some of the finest around the world’. Your editor suggested that his company does not offer promotional products (pens, usb sticks, ballpark caps, etc) because they are generically not good for the environment and that, as an environmental organization, we decline to give away products which contribute to environmental harm.

The unsolicited salesman laughed and said that his company offers recycled plastic products, bamboo products, and many more which are good for the environment. Your editor responded that none of these products are ‘good’ for the environment and that we decline to give away stuff which the recipients probably do not need. Eventually, after much laughter on his part and a consistent message that he offers environmentally friendly products, we managed to persuade this persistent telephone salesman to go away.

The fact is that giving away junk products to people who do not need them can never be environmentally responsible. We do not totally blame this promotional products company for trying to sell its greener promotional products, though it was clear that this particular telephone salesperson had no environmental expertise whatsoever. We might take the position that if a company is going to give away promotional gifts then it is better that they be greener gifts than non-green gifts. However, the fact is that giving trivial giftware to people who neither want nor need it is an environmentally harmful activity and is a totally unnecessary contribution to generation of garbage.

GallonDaily has two proposals:

1) companies that claim to be environmentally and socially responsible should swear off the handing out of pens, caps, balls, t-shirts, or any other ‘promotional item’ that is unnecessary and most likely unneeded and unwanted by the recipient; and

2) that stewardship organizations across Canada should give priority to charging stewardship fees to companies which distribute these ‘promotional items’ for free handout to visitors to company offices, conferences, exhibitions, etc.

If companies wish to hand out ‘promotional items’ GallonDaily suggests that those items should be in the form of candies or other junk food items. At least then it is only the recipients or their families that are becoming unnecessarily fat, not Canada’s landfills 🙂

CEO of Avery Dennison talks on the challenges of adopting a sustainability agenda

Avery Dennison, a $6.1 billion California-based global corporation known best for its self-adhesive labels, has been getting good environmental profiling around a $200,000 grant made to Rainforest Alliance for promotion of sustainable forestry in Honduras. The Chairman, President and CEO of Avery Dennison was interviewed by Rainforest Alliance about the company’s efforts to protect the environment and support local communities. Among his comments about Avery Dennison’s progress towards sustainability:

  • We measure success by the social, environmental and economic value we create.
  • Sustainability is the smart thing for us to do, as well as the right thing.
  • You can’t run an enterprise for the long term if you aren’t doing it in a sustainable way.
  • And it’s consistent with a basic economic truth: businesses are created to provide solutions for unmet needs.
  • If we innovate to meet a societal need, all stakeholders will reap the benefits.
  • Our sustainability goals have evolved from a set of initiatives to a core business strategy.
  • We’re focused on using our scale and purchasing power to move the entire labeling and packaging industry to use more responsibly sourced materials.
  • We’re in a unique position to bring together a full range of stakeholders to work on solutions that benefit everyone.
  • In our manufacturing facilities, we’re driving efficiencies in energy, greenhouse gas emissions, materials and waste.
  • One of our long term goals is to achieve zero waste to landfill from our manufacturing operations and address the downstream waste impacts associated with self-adhesive labeling materials.
  • In 2013, we turned to the Rainforest Alliance to help us develop a responsible paper sourcing policy with the ultimate goal of sourcing all of our paper products sustainably without increasing our costs.
  • A major hurdle in adopting a more sustainable supply chain is the industry’s mindset. There were two big myths about sustainability we had to overcome. The first is that it costs more. It’s just not true. In fact, there are sustainable solutions that we provide today to help make supply chains run more efficiently. The second myth is that it’s too hard. Of course, it takes planning and hard work, but the real challenge is doing things differently and thinking in new ways. Once you embrace that notion, it opens up new possibilities and opportunities for innovation.
  • Manufacturing efficiently uses less material and creates less waste, reducing both costs and environmental impact. Using renewable resources, and finding lower-impact alternatives, can help ensure that we have future access to the materials from which we make our products. Employing people in fair, safe and ethical environments and offering them opportunities for training and advancement enhances their lives and communities — and helps them be more productive and creative on the job.

The complete interview is available at http://thefrogblog.org/2014/05/05/the-business-of-sustainable-forestry-a-conversation-with-avery-dennison-ceo-dean-a-scarborough/

Auditor General criticizes Public Works over environmental due diligence issues

In his Spring Report, issued today, Auditor General Michael Ferguson has criticized Public Works and Government Services Canada for weaknesses in the way it operationalizes the findings of environmental due diligence reviews in some federal government buildings. In the auditor’s words:

We analyzed the issues the Department identified through its environmental due diligence reviews in the 2012–13 fiscal year. About 40 percent of these reviews raised issues, and at least a quarter of the issues were more than a simple deficiency in documentation—for example, improper storage of hazardous materials. Furthermore, we noted that for three of the eight contracts [with building management service providers], the Department had not communicated the results of the reviews it conducted in the 2012–13 fiscal year to the service provider. It had also not completed the final national report on the results of its assessments of environmental compliance.

The Auditor General identified the PWGS Canada obligations as including:

Ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements concerning environmental protection as well as health and safety in buildings where federal employees work. For the purposes of this audit, this includes the following areas, where proper management is important to minimize significant risks to occupants’ health and safety:

    • hazardous materials and hazardous waste,
    • fuel storage tanks,
    • asbestos,
    • ozone-depleting substances,
    • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs),
    • potable water,
    • indoor air quality, and
    • fire safety.

The AG notes that PWGS Canada is not accountable for ensuring that all these obligations are met for all buildings managed under the outsourcing contracts. However, the Department is responsible for ensuring that the service provider complies with the contracts’ terms and conditions in support of these obligations.

More details are available in Chapter 7:—Outsourcing Building Management Services—Public Works and Government Services Canada of the Auditor General of Canada’s 2014 Spring Report to be found at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201405_07_e_39338.html#ex1

Tesco an award winner for reducing transport emissions

UK grocery retailer Tesco PLC has won an award from Carbon Trust for Outstanding Contribution to Sustainability and Environmental Performance’ for reducing emissions from its transportation network. Tesco’s transportation emissions per unit of goods have been cut by 14% in the UK in the last two years, on top of a 50% reduction achieved between 2006 and 2012.

Measures taken by the Company include:

  • using trains and ships instead of trucks to move goods. For example, Tesco is using more sea routes – like Gdynia in Poland to Teesport in North Yorkshire, a move which has reduced road miles by over 80% and produced savings of EUR 300k (CDN $450,000) per year.
  • in the UK, Tesco operates five trains that pick up and deliver goods from suppliers including Highland Spring, Coca-Cola and Red Bull.
  • more than 50% of the goods moved from its rail-enabled National Grocery Distribution Centre at Daventry are transported by rail.
  • Tesco ensures that delivery trucks are as full as possible before they set off and by careful planning has cut over 8 million miles a year from its trucking. 
  • the Company has introduced what it describes as cutting-edge technology, like aerodynamic trailers and dual-fuel (diesel and biogas) trucks.

Tesco’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2012/13 totalled 5.75 million tonnes of CO2e.

The Tesco announcement is at http://www.tescoplc.com/index.asp?pageid=17&newsid=960

Ontario budget now a non-event

In this space GallonDaily would normally review the environmental aspects of the Ontario Budget which was introduced yesterday. However, both opposition parties have indicated that they will not support the Budget, meaning, in the present minority government situation, that the Budget will not pass the Legislature and that there will be an election in Ontario.

It is unlikely that the same Budget will be introduced after the election, whatever the election outcome. Gallondaily will present an environmental review of the various party platforms once they have become clear.

Electric cars: a small but rapidly increasing market share

A respected German non-profit foundation, Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung (ZSW) Baden-Württemberg, (Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research) has reported that there are now more than 400,000 electrically powered automobiles in use worldwide and that the figure is projected to grow to one million by 2016.

The electric vehicle count doubled over the twelve months of last year with 200,000 new vehicles being put on the roads. Nearly 50% of the world’s electric cars (174,000) are in use in the United States. Other leading countries for use of electric vehicles are, in order from the highest: Japan, China, France, Netherlands, Norway, and Germany. The authors note that countries with incentive programs have taken the lead in electric mobility. Lead manufacturers, in terms of number of vehicles on the road, are Nissan, General Motors, and Toyota.

The study considers only battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV), and battery electric vehicles with a range extender (ReX). Regular hybrid electric vehicles are not included in the count.

A link to a summary of the report in English is available at http://www.zsw-bw.de/en/support/news/news-detail/weltweit-ueber-400000-elektroautos-unterwegs.html