Not heavily industrialized and with large tracts of remaining forest, Finland contributes a small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, like many nations around the world, it is experiencing the effects of climate change to a disproportionate degree. Situated at Western Europe’s northernmost extreme, climate change is making an impact on just about every aspect of Finnish life and society.
Nearly 500 national climate change laws have been passed in 66 countries, according to the 2014 GLOBE Climate Legislation Study. Adding to these numbers, Finland’s government on June 6 approved a proposal for a National Climate Act that entails reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Transforming modern life, the advent of “digital” homes, businesses, governments and societies is yielding tremendous triple bottom line benefits in countries the world over. It has also brought a host of new social and ecological problems and challenges – from the “digital divide” and threats to the security and integrity of vital information to fast growing “mountains” of electronic waste (e-waste).
For the first time, more than 1 billion smartphones were shipped worldwide last year. Phenomenally popular, worldwide tablet shipments rose 68 percent year over year to reach 195.6 million units. Unsurprisingly, e-waste is one of the fastest growing components of our waste stream, forecast to grow by one-third from 2012 levels, to 65.4 million tons, by 2017.
Looking to mimic nature and close the loop on e-waste, the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability’s (UNU-IAS) “Solving the E-waste Problem” (StEP) Initiative has been working to raise awareness and help governments, businesses, communities and consumers build the institutional frameworks and capacity to reclaim, recycle and capture the tremendous value e-waste contains. Early this past April, StEP hosted its latest E-Waste Academy for Managers (EWAM) seminar in El Salvador, a country in a region where e-waste, both domestic and imported, poses growing triple bottom line threats.
Climate change, resource scarcity, social responsibility and good citizenship – professional investors are increasingly factoring sustainability into governance policies, portfolio decision-making processes and investment allocations, according to a new study from PwC’s Investor Resource Institute.
Indicative of the increased attention institutional investors are paying to sustainability, Stanford University Board of Trustees made headlines recently, announcing that university endowment funds will not be invested in some 100 publicly traded companies whose principal business is investing in coal. Moreover, they stated that the university will divest its current holdings in the shares of these companies.
Aiming to assess the influence of sustainability issues among large professional investment companies, a broad mix of institutional investors – asset managers, pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds and others – responsible for managing over $7.6 trillion in assets responded to PwC Resource Institute’s survey. As the institute’s leader, Kayla Gillan, explains in a press release:
“Our research sought to gain insight from investors about how they are incorporating issues of climate change, resource scarcity, extreme weather events and evolving corporate responsibility expectations into their investment decisions and strategies. We found significant evidence that an effect is occurring today—and that it is likely to increase in coming years.”
Finding in favor of an international trade petition brought by leading U.S. solar manufacturer Solar World Americas, the U.S. Department of Commerce made a preliminary decision to close a loophole that Chinese manufacturers have been exploiting. Through the loophole, these companies manufactured crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar photovoltaic (PV) cells in Taiwan and other third-party countries, shipped them to China for assembly into modules and panels, then exported them to the U.S.
Widening the scope of unfair trade and anti-dumping duties and tariffs imposed on Chinese c-Si PV products, the Commerce Department issued preliminary countervailing duties (CVDs) ranging from 18.56 percent to 35.21 percent. These CVDs apply to c-Si PV cells and modules, as well as laminates, panels and other products, consisting of c-Si PV cells produced and/or partially or wholly assembled into other products by Chinese manufacturers in China or other countries.
Commerce’s preliminary decision in favor of SolarWorld America’s petition reignites controversy over an issue that has divided the solar PV industry in the U.S. and globally.
SolarWorld and supporters applauded the department’s preliminary decision, saying it will protect manufacturing jobs and level the playing field for U.S. solar manufacturers. Critics, led by the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, say that it will lead to higher solar energy costs, weigh on downstream solar energy industry participants and constrain growth in a fast-growing U.S. residential solar PV market.
Throughout the course of history waste, environmental degradation and pollution have grown alongside human population and economic activity. Economies and people’s livelihoods have become dependent on producing and consuming myriad products made up of chemical compounds unknown in nature or to them — and indigestible to the Earth’s natural processes of recycling and reuse.
To produce these products, we destroy ecosystems and wildlife – even other people at times – and pollute the air, water and land. When we’re finished with them, we discard them to be carted off, dumped, buried or incinerated. A small, but significant and growing amount, we recycle or reuse.
Some might say, “That’s nature, and we’re just a part of it.” Others are using the gifts nature has endowed us with to find better ways of designing and making things — ways that are not only socially, ecologically and economically sustainable, but can actually leave a net positive footprint on societies and our planet.
In the 2002 book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart introduced the concept of cradle-to-cradle product design.
Taking up and expanding on the concept and its principles, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute today released a study exploring the business, environmental and social impacts on 10 pioneering companies participating in a pilot implementation of its Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program.
This past Monday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled the Obama administration’s highly anticipated proposal to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing U.S. power plants, the president’s strongest action yet to halt the rise in carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are prompting a shift in global climate. A day later, Reuters reported that a senior government adviser said that China will impose a cap on CO2 emissions in 2016.
Alone, one of these developments would add substantial impetus to global climate change mitigation efforts and prospects of achieving a global climate change accord. Taken together, it doubles them, at the least.
How about tripling them, or more? Two weeks ago, India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his intention to see that every Indian home gets at least some electricity from clean, renewable solar power by 2019.
Yes, India’s new PM, President Obama and China Premier Li Keqiang and supporters have many hurdles to overcome and battles to fight for these initiatives to be realized. But to witness all three prominent national leaders take strong, definitive steps to mitigate climate change, well, it’s a historic milestone, to say the least.
Renewable energy sources supplied nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of final energy consumption worldwide in 2012 and continued growing in 2013, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century’s (REN21) “Renewables 2014 Global Status Report,” one of the most thorough and comprehensive reports on conditions and trends in global use of renewable energy.
Technological advances, cost reductions, and the spread of supportive government policies and institutional frameworks have progressed much faster and further than had been anticipated, REN21 highlights in its latest report, to the point where the cost of wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-energy and geothermal energy is on par, or even below, that of conventional fossil fuels across a widening range of countries, regions and uses. Commenting on renewables’ rapid advance into the mainstream energy mix, REN21 states:
“[M]ost mainstream projections did not predict the extraordinary expansion of renewables that was to unfold in the coming decade. Numerous scenarios projected levels of renewable energy for 2020 that were already surpassed by 2010. Today, renewable energy technologies are seen not only as a tool for improving energy security, but also as a way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to provide direct and indirect social beneﬁts.”
Much in the way of human brain power, as well as time, money and computing resources, is being dedicated to analyzing the costs and benefits of alternative, less socially and environmentally damaging clean energy development pathways. Taking an alternative approach to the issue in a recently released research paper, the Brookings Institution’s Charles R. Frank, Jr. evaluates five low and no-carbon electricity technologies and presents their net benefits across a range of energy and climate policy and market price assumptions.
Rather than assessing the net benefits of wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear and combined-cycle natural gas power plants from the more commonly used perspective of levelized energy costs, which can be misleading, in “The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies,” Frank, an economist and former director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), bases his analysis on avoided emissions and avoided costs. He concludes that absent a high-enough price on carbon, a carbon tax or direct levies on fossil fuel suppliers, “nuclear, hydro and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar.”
While providing valuable economic insights for power industry investors, operators, and energy and climate policymakers, Frank’s study also highlights the shortcomings of research economists’ models and thinking when it comes to guiding decision-making on energy and climate, and the dangers of relying on them as “go-to” guides for determining energy, climate and economic policy.
Hotels and tourism businesses worldwide have been keen to capitalize on travelers’ growing “eco-consciousness.” Besides the potential boost in revenue from “green” marketing, ecologically sensitive and energy efficient design, building and operations can yield substantial savings; it can also reduce the vulnerability and risk exposure of hotel and tourism businesses to fluctuations in the prices of energy, water and environmental degradation.
Aiming to earn Platinum-level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the family-run Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. is installing cutting-edge energy storage and power management technology developed by Green Charge Networks.
Explaining the rationale that led to the decision, CEO Steve Farzam stated: “Shore Hotel is committed to modeling how sustainability and luxury can work together to create an incredible experience for our guests. Energy storage is a natural complement to the many measures we’ve taken to reduce our carbon footprint and achieve Gold LEED certifications.”
Pioneering third-party solar leasing, as well as solar lease asset securitization, Elon Musk’s SolarCity has been burning up the financial, solar and clean energy industry news networks for a while now.
Keen to add momentum to its rapidly expanding business, SolarCity today announced a partnership with another pioneering and fast-growing start-up, this one in the field of online advertising and promotions. Now the largest solar power provider in the U.S., SolarCity, and Groupon have launched “the first online offer of its kind for solar power systems.”
SolarCity-Groupon “deal of the day”
According to a joint press release, the two Nasdaq-listed companies will work together to offer deals on home solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems on Groupon’s online marketplace. An initial, signature Groupon “deal of the day” carrot to entice online marketplace participants is already out there. “For a limited time, customers can benefit from additional savings with a deal from Groupon by paying $1 for $400 off” a residential solar power system leased and installed by SolarCity, according to the joint press release.
Last week was a busy and eventful one for the solar energy industry as market participants from across the U.S., and around the world, gathered in Anaheim, Calif. for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014. Among the highlights of the four-day summit: The DOE announced funding for six new concentrating solar power-thermochemical energy storage (TCES) R&D projects and launched SunShot Catalyst, a $1 million crowdsourcing contest that the Energy Department believes can accelerate the pace of solar energy innovation and cost reductions.
The SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014′s event calendar was chock full of Obama administration and industry heavyweights and thought leaders, including ARPA-E‘s Dr. Cheryl Martin, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Dan Arvizu, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Cristin Dorgelo.
Commenting on President Barack Obama’s SunShot Initiative, the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Ali Zaidi stated, “If moonshot was a race away from our planet, SunShot, in a way, is a race to save our planet.”
Whether it’s climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of water and land, or social, economic and political inequality, taking action to conserve tropical forests is hailed as one of the most effective ways to address multiple ills. Real progress in overcoming divisions and actually stopping tropical deforestation while enhancing the well-being and livelihoods of local residents has been hard to come by, however.
Encouragingly, new partnerships and collaboration between traditionally antagonistic groups–environmental NGOs, big business and, at times, national governments–are building new pathways for sustainable development.
On May 21, for example, the Brazilian government, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and partners announced the launch “of a $215 million fund to ensure the long-term protection of the world’s largest network of protected areas–150 million acres (two Californias’ worth) of Brazilian Amazon rain forest.”
In the world of automobile and transportation equipment manufacturing, corporations don’t get much bigger than Volkswagen Group (VW). With 12 brands and 106 manufacturing facilities in 27 countries around the world employing more than 570,000 people (some 40,000 engineers alone), VW produced a record-high 9.73 million vehicles in 2013 (a 12.8 percent share of the global passenger-car market), €197 billion (~$268.5 billion) in revenue and an after-tax profit of €9.3 billion (~$12.68 billion). In Western Europe, nearly one-in-four new cars (24.8 percent) is a VW brand.
It’s fair to say that no other automobile and transportation manufacturer has gone as far as VW in adopting and instilling social and environmental, as well as economic, sustainability at the core of its organizational values and priorities. Once again ranking No. 1 on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in 2013, VW was the first automobile manufacturer to commit to reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions intensity of its European new vehicle fleet to 95 grams per kilometer (5.36 oz/mi). Last year, the group was able to “drive” its average vehicle emissions intensity below 130 g/km for the first time.
More broadly, VW on May 16 released its third annual group sustainability report. Organized along three principal facets of sustainability–economy, people and environment–it shows that when it comes to enhancing the sustainability of its business, VW is looking well beyond improving the quality, performance and fuel efficiency of its conventional, fossil-fuel vehicle fleet. The company is a member of the United Nations Global Compact and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; its 2013 sustainability report shows that the group is well on its way toward achieving the key 25 percent-by-2018 improvements set out in its “Think Blue” strategic sustainability plan.
Concentrating solar power (CSP) technology is on the cusp of changes that are likely to drive the pace of deployments to new heights. Already able to produce utility-scale amounts of renewable electricity cost-effectively, scientists and engineers have been focusing on developing new, more efficient and cheaper thermal energy storage systems and integrating them into CSP plants. That goal now appears within reach.
Spanish sustainable energy multinational Abengoa commissioned the first CSP facility with a grid-scale, molten-salts energy storage system in the U.S. last October. The company upped the ante last week, announcing that Chile’s environmental regulator had approved the planned 110-megawatt (MW) Cerro Dominador, a project which, if successfully completed, will be the first utility-scale CSP facility capable of supplying electricity to the grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Looking to keep the advances coming and momentum going, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on May 21 announced it will provide $10 million in research-and-development (R&D) funding for six new CSP projects. Each of these projects aim to develop cheaper and more efficient thermochemical energy storage systems that could boost the performance and lower the costs of utility-scale CSP further.
The northern Gulf of Mexico has long served as an illustration of the dangers and economic costs associated with marine hypoxia. Also called “dead zones,” marine hypoxia is a shortage of oxygen in ocean waters due to terrestrial run-off of nitrogen, phosphorous and pollutants from cities, farms, oil refineries and industrial plants. Not limited to the Gulf of Mexico, marine “dead zones” have been identified around the world–suffocating marine life, snuffing out ecosystems and biodiversity, and ruining once-thriving fisheries and communities.
Looking to restore the northern Gulf of Mexico-Mississippi River Basin to something approaching its former glory, the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force yesterday announced a groundbreaking partnership made up of land grant universities, federal agencies and other stakeholder organizations across the 12-state basin.