We grit our teeth when we see them on the road, but the stubborn truth is that trucks are an integral part of the North American economy’s foundation. The movement of goods from port to storefront or warehouse is a huge economic multiplier and employer. At the same time, in addition to the fact that trucking is a brutal job entailing long hours, many truckers are independent contractors. True, cheap oil may lighten their wallets, but the history of fossil fuel prices suggests at any point in the future they will be susceptible fuel cost shocks. More sustainable sources of fuel would be a huge benefit to the industry in the long run.
To that end, BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) has issued another one of their energy and fuel reports. The latest study focuses on transportation fuel in North America, and its timing is on point considering 2014 was the hottest year on record. Transportation causes 14 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions and 23 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Clean energy technologies are slowly gaining traction within the transport sector, but the process will be slow: the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests renewables will at best make up 15 percent of the globe’s transport mix by 2035. Hence the industry faces massive challenges, but also opportunities for companies as the sector will continue to grow at a rapid pace.
At first glance this campaign reminds you of the 1980s bar scene and may elicit an eye roll. But in too many parts of the world, the thirst for water and hours put into collecting it trumps political correctness. To that end, the Belgian brewer Stella Artois has partnered with Water.org to launch an eye-catching campaign to halt one of the most onerous tasks faced by women in developing nations: the hours-long daily route of hauling water, usually by foot, over long distances. The “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign opened last week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Indeed, this cause marketing campaign is a knife in a massive gunfight as NGOs, private companies and governments try to find ways to expand access to clean water in an era of growing water scarcity. Nevertheless, more knives like that of Stella Artois’ initiative are needed. The statistics are overwhelming. At least 760 million people lack access to safe, secure and clean water. Women and children spend about 140 million hours a day collecting water. And while mobile technology has opened more economic doors, one disturbing fact is that more people worldwide own a cell phone than own a toilet. Stella Artois’ campaign, which enlists Water.org’s founders Matt Damon and Gary White, is a step in raising awareness about this massive problem.
Copenhagen, Denmark has long been one of the more proactive cities when it comes to planning for climate change. It also happens to be the capital of the country with one of the most advanced clean energy portfolios on earth. And with most of the city only having an average altitude of 30 feet (9 meters) above sea level, Copenhagen is susceptible to storm surges and its temperamental climate. Cloud bursts over the last few years have smacked the city budget — one heavy storm in 2011 alone cost the city about 6 billion kroner, or over US$1 billion. As part of its climate adaptation plan, the city recently revealed what it says is the first neighborhood redesigned to adapt to climate change.
The district of St. Kjeld features a roundabout circling a main square at which seven streets converge. Long a patchwork of asphalt surfaces, the central plaza was typical of most of Copenhagen’s open spaces during times of extreme weather: worthless. The city’s sewer system had long been at maximum capacity, and therefore rain had nowhere to go, worsening its ongoing flooding problem. To that end, the city engaged the architecture firm Tredje Natur to come up with a plan to revamp and redesign St. Kjeld’s open spaces.
It’s one thing to be told you’re getting a discount; but everyone loves having cash wired into their account. Such an incentive could encourage more utility customers to save on their energy usage. Charts comparing current usage to that of the previous year may be eye-catching and arouse curiosity, but cash generates far more attention.
To that end, MeterHero, a Web-based utility monitoring tool, is looking to encourage people to conserve water and energy through cash rebates sponsored by businesses with sustainability goals.
Such a tactic is important because water scarcity will only worsen over the coming decades. California’s water struggles have long been documented. Las Vegas and Atlanta are also dealing with water scarcity. Even Chicago, located in the water-rich Great Lakes region, could face water shortages in the coming decade. While agriculture continues to consume most of the freshwater in the United States — 70 percent more or less, depending on the source — municipal water agencies need to save every drop, as the cliché goes. The same goes for energy. Consumers may be giddy over filling their tanks for less than 20 bucks, but oil and gas prices will eventually rise again as the population increases and economy grows.
Mars Inc., the US$33 billion dollar company known for chocolate but also a huge global player in prepared foods, pet care and beverages, has announced what it says is a more aggressive policy towards addressing deforestation within its beef, soy and paper supply chains. Last week’s announcement is a follow up to the company’s deforestation agenda that it made a year ago.
The change is important because deforestation is the cause from 15 to 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—in addition to its effects on water security, biodiversity and economic disruption for the world’s poorest people. The demand for paper products is one part of the problem, but the world’s growing appetite for protein, notably beef and soy, are the biggest reasons behind deforestation. Meanwhile companies are scrambling to create more rigorous deforestation policies as consumers become more interested in how their favorite products are manufactured and sourced. To that end, Mars has set some goals on how it sources some of its most important raw materials over the next several years.
It is easy to think of Masdar as the company who built the Middle East’s sustainable city in the middle of the desert, but the Abu Dhabi company is more than that: it runs a clean technology investment fund with about half a billion dollars, and has also become a major global renewable energy investor. Its latest initiative, another solar energy project in the West African nation of Mauritania, will provide clean energy in seven towns throughout this country of 4 million.
The new solar power plants are a follow-up to Masdar’s installation of a large power plant outside the capital city of Nouakchott two years ago. That project provides 15 megawatts of green power, and at full operation provides up to 10 percent of Mauritania’s electricity needs. This new project now expands solar across the country, with seven cities benefitting from a total of 12 megawatts of solar—enough to displace 6 million liters of diesel fuel and over 16,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
China is close to becoming the third country, after the United States and Russia, to land spacecraft on the moon. As a result, the blogosphere has been buzzing with one of the reasons why the Chinese have apparently decided to invest in space exploration: to explore the possibility of the isotope helium-3, rare on Earth but possibly plentiful on the moon, in order to research its viability as a clean and powerful form of energy.
Such potential is a reminder of the movie “Avatar,” the premise of which was based on humans traveling long distances across space to exploit valuable natural resources from a planet in order to meet the insatiable needs for humankind.
In the case of Chinese moon exploration, the reason is to test the viability of helium-3 as a perfectly secure form of energy. For years the buzz was that cold fusion could solve Earth’s energy conundrum without the nasty effects of pollution and greenhouse gasses. That hype has long died down, but now helium-3 could be that Holy Grail. The oft-quoted claim bouncing across the Internet suggests that 25 tons of helium-3, when reacted with deuterium, would generate enough electricity to power the United States for one year.
Considering the wars over oil and the challenges that renewables pose, you’d think it would be easy to make the case that we should be hauling lunar rocks from the moon, extracting the helium-3 and solving all of our energy problems. After all, the Chinese are looking into it, so shouldn’t we? One author suggests the U.S. would do it, too, but powerful corporate and political interests are getting in the way.
If it were only that simple.
Desalination is one reason why the Gulf region has enjoyed spectacular growth over the past two decades. Harvesting fresh water out of the sea is also one long-term economic and environmental problem that countries such as the United Arab Emirates will have to confront.
Effluent resulting from removing salts and minerals from seawater is often discharged into the Gulf, creating one environmental problem. And while most desalination plants in the Middle East are actually cogeneration plants that generate electricity from natural gas, heightened demand for power in the summer means many such plants generate more potable water than can be consumed. In turn, the unneeded water is released into the Gulf, creating even more ecological burdens. And at a pragmatic level, fossil fuels used to operate power-hungry desalination plants means less of them can be exported or even used for local electricity and power requirements.
Desalination fueled from solar or other renewables offer potential, but as of now the amount of energy required has not made renewable energy a viable alternative. A pilot project launched by Masdar in Abu Dhabi, however, could pave the way to a future where desalination could be possible with less of a carbon footprint.
The Gulf region is certainly rife with ambition: In addition to the audacious architecture emerging in its cities, Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are competing to build the world’s largest airports — which means far more demand for aviation fuel. Meanwhile the vast majority of food consumed here is imported, meaning more investments to ensure food security that critics say are not much more than a land grab.
The fact this region has one of the world’s hottest and harshest climates has not stopped its rapid growth, in turn bringing up countless questions about the Middle East’s long-term sustainability. Add the questions of water with its demands for more desalination while aquifers have become depleted, and the future with more people and demand for resources does not look too promising. With 97 percent of the world’s water in oceans and 20 percent of its land desert, other countries will have to face this same dilemma.
But what if it were possible to grow food sustainably in the desert while creating aviation biofuels? A pilot project to launch later this year in Masdar City was announced yesterday at a press conference during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.
The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), an initiative of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, has announced what it says will be the world’s first bioenergy pilot project to use desert land, irrigated by seawater, to produce both food and energy.
Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg of Switzerland, who founded Solar Impulse, announced the flight path of Solar Impulse 2 during a press conference today in Abu Dhabi. The project’s latest plane will depart the capital of the United Arab Emirates in late February or early March and will return from this groundbreaking solar flight after flying around the world in late July or early August. The plane’s journey, which could take anywhere from 22,000 to 25,000 miles (35,000 to 40,000 kilometers), intends to fly day and night, 20 hours per flight, using only solar power–while sending a global message about the promise of clean energy and the need to confront the growing risks of climate change.
Solar Impulse has already made impressive history with the organization’s first prototype, which has flown across the United States, Morocco and Europe. The trips’ stops were opportunities for Piccard and Borschberg to evangelize Solar Impulse’s mission. But at a higher level, the two men, who are both engineers and pilots, have long emphasized the need to push the boundaries of renewable energy research and development. Next month’s round-the-world flight will promote their mission even further as they aim to reach out to governments, schools and local media during their upcoming journey—planned to both meet the challenges of geography while carrying out a very geopolitical strategy.
Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the annual conference that brings together over 30,000 professionals to meet on issues including energy, water and waste, kicked off yesterday. As always it started with a grandiose opening ceremony and a reminder of the United Arab Emirates’ achievements over the 40+ years since independence.
In addition to the panels, press conferences and massive exhibition halls, the winners of the annual Zayed Future Energy Prize (ZFEP, or the “Oscars” or “Nobel Prize” for clean energy), which included former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, were announced for 2015.
Founded in 2008, ZFEP awards US$4 million in prizes for both achievements and future potential in clean energy development. The committee who decides the final winners recognized Gore for his “unwavering personal and political commitment” to climate change, while constantly expressing optimism that the world community can take on the challenge. Gore said he would divert the US$500,000 cash award to The Climate Change Reality Project, an initiative he founded in 2006 to train activists to speak publicly about climate change’s risks and find more effective ways to communicate them.
The Chevrolet exhibit at Cobo Hall in Detroit was packed, with the floor teeming with everyone from the leading news organizations to bloggers with their selfie sticks in hand. The cobalt blue Volt that emerged on stage did not disappoint, as CEO Mary Barra and North American President Alan Batey touted the 2016 model’s new features while at least 50 enthusiastic Volt owners cheered from their front row seats.
In previous years, rollouts of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids such as the Volt emphasized range and car battery features, which were well received by EV enthusiasts but met by a collective shrug and disinterest by most consumers. But that is slowly changing as EVs continue to improve their range as well as overall performance, and as such the 2016 Volt met expectations. The newest Volt is sleeker, yet still sports a hearty, muscular design. It is in many ways more efficient than earlier models, which of course will interest EV fans and inspire debate. But many of the new features and improvements were what one would expect to hear in a conventional gasoline-powered car — which in the end boosts the Volt’s performance and will score more interest from consumers.
Concept cars at automobile shows generally offer the following: great opps for selfies, dreams over driving a vehicle that will never exist and, of course, the occasional eye roll. But this week at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, one concept car dazzled because of its design and its potential to transform the automobile industry: General Motors’ (GM) Chevrolet Bolt EV, which could hit the market as soon as 2017.
The Bolt is a huge step closer toward the holy grail of electric vehicles (EVs): affordability and sustainability — the latter of which in this case is defined by range, the current bugaboo of most EVs. Sure, we love Tesla for its phenomenal design and range of 265 miles between charges. Unfortunately, the sticker price, which ranges between $70,000 and $90,000, is out of range of most of our budgets. GM’s Chevy Spark EV could be a car for the rest of us, with a price of about $20,000 after federal rebates. But with a range of about 82 miles, it fails to snag interest from most consumers due to that massive hurdle: “range anxiety.”
Zero waste has become the mantra at companies across the board, from vineyards to CPG giants such as Procter and Gamble. The waste diversion bug has hit General Motors (GM) as well, as the automaker continues to increase the number of its facilities that are landfill-free. The brain behind new ways to get rid of garbage is GM’s global manager of waste reduction, John Bradburn, often called the “MacGyver of waste” by his colleagues at the company’s campus in Warren, Michigan.
Among the many ways in which Bradburn’s team diverts garbage from permanent interment in dumps has a human, as well as an ornithological, side to it. GM’s continued success with its Chevy Volt means more batteries moving through the company’s supply chain as they are hauled from suppliers’ warehouses to their final installation within a new Volt. Unfortunately, the composite that does a fine job protecting the cases during their transport is difficult to recycle. But several years ago, Bradburn found a way to repurpose these cases, and he made many friends with conservation groups in the process.
The electrical and electronics sector is the top manufacturing industry in Malaysia, providing almost one-third of the country’s exports and employing 27 percent of its workforce. The Malaysian electronics industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers, is also rife with abuse. One study suggests that 28 percent of workers were trapped into forced labor, and another 46 percent were on the “threshold” of finding themselves in a forced labor situation.
To that end, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an NGO focused on supply chain sustainability within the electronics sector, announced it will conduct audits and work with Malaysian government agencies to halt what has become a massive human rights tragedy.
Founded in 2004, the EICC was launched by a small group of electronics manufacturers that have a goal to adopt industry-wide standards covering environmental, social and ethical issues within the industry’s entire supply chain. The organization was completely run by volunteers until 2013, when a full-time staff was hired to manage the EICC’s next growth phase. Malaysia will test this organization’s success.