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.
Last week the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) released a new set of standards that will guide the organization’s certification practices through 2019. SFI claims that its standards include policies and guidelines that will help protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species and old-growth forests in the United States and Canada.
The new rules also promise everything from managing the “visual impact” of forests, respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, investment in forestry research and technology, and transparency. According to Lawrence Selzer, chair of the SFI’s board of directors, “The revised SFI standards will continue to serve as a proof point for responsible forestry in North America … These standards are shaped by the people and communities who put them into practice every day.”
This could be a new beginning for SFI, which has been dogged by allegations of deceptive marketing while working as a front for private companies. In recent years companies have shunned SFI while the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) continues to gain more traction in the industry. So, with these new directives, is SFI to be believed?
Not so fast, says one NGO.
Denmark has long been one of the world’s leaders in wind power. The country of 5.6 million has set a goal of generating 50 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2020 and aims to be entirely fossil fuel-free by 2050. Those goals, especially the one for 2020, are well achievable: Denmark has announced it scored 39.1 percent of its energy from wind in 2014.
That statistic is quite a jump from 2013, when Denmark generated 33.2 percent of its electricity from wind, and it has more than doubled its wind power capacity from a decade ago (18.8 percent). The result is a country that has understandably dubbed itself the world’s “Wind Power Hub.” Considering the Danish wind industry’s claim that it has built over 90 percent of the world’s offshore wind turbines, Denmark’s continued surge in wind power development, while stunning, has its origins in long-term planning.
Americans’ consumption of beef has been declining at a steady rate since the 1970s, but the beef industry is still a powerful lobbying force in this country. So watch for an onslaught of propaganda if a U.S. Department of Agriculture panel makes new recommendations for dietary guidelines in the near future. In a move that will bring screams of nanny state-ism, socialism and “Blame Obama,” the Associated Press has reported this advisory panel is close to recommending a diet that is both higher in plant foods and reduces its overall environmental impact.
Clearly that suggestion is a shot at the beef industry, which at a global scale has a massive effect on land use and carbon emissions. True, the industry is making a nudge towards becoming more sustainable, but big beef’s impact on water, land and air is hard to ignore. Plus considering Americans’ generation-long struggle with obesity, a diet heavy on produce, whole grains, nuts and other plant-based products is not a bad idea. So that “My Plate” icon, which replaced that disastrous “food pyramid” suggesting we heap on the carbohydrates at meal times, could soon have less room for meat.
Naturally, the beef industry is not having it.
Earlier this week 13 flight attendants filed a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against United Airlines. The 26-page document claims that United fired them illegally in retaliation for refusing to fly on a 747 from San Francisco to Hong Kong last summer because of suspicious images and a message scrawled on the tail of the airplane. According to the Chicago Tribune, the flight attendants had a total of almost 300 combined years of experience—not that it mattered to the airline.
According to the complaint, the combination of “BYE BYE” and one face that looked “devilish” worried the crew enough to request that United complete a thorough inspection of the 747 to make sure no explosives were planted within the aircraft. The airline refused, the flight attendants refused to board the plane . . . and then all of them were fired for insubordination.
Are we talking about cautious professionals during an uncertain time, or was this a total overreach?
It is not easy being a mall these days, nor is it easy being a mall store. And it certainly is not easy being a mall store employee with the low pay and lack of benefits that are trademarks of working in retail. Wet Seal, once a symbol of “mall rat” culture, is the latest clothing company to struggle with a shift in consumer shopping trends.
Unfortunately, like other struggling retail chains, Wet Seal is not managing its demise with much grace. After a long court battle, the tween and young women’s clothing company settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit alleging it discriminated against black employees for not fitting the company’s “brand image.” California employees also sued the company over policies such as being forced to purchase Wet Seal clothes and not being reimbursed for travel between locations.
Then there are the mounting financial problems: Wet Seal has lost over $150 million in the past two years, and it recently defaulted on a private placement deal to the tune of $28 million. As the company prepares to close as many as 60 stores by the end of the month, its CFO scored a $95,000 raise.
California Senate Bill 270, passed by the state legislature and signed into law in September, would ban many retail stores from dispensing single-use plastic bags as of July 1, 2015. But in another example of a special interest perverting democracy when it does not get its way, the Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) has announced it has collected over 800,000 signatures to qualify for a statewide up-or-down vote in November 2016. Once that tally is confirmed, the July ban would be postponed until the following year.
You probably saw the sign gatherers at stores such as Target, where I was greeted with an appeal to sign my name and take sides with the “American Progressive Bag Alliance” in order to reverse this “backdoor deal” — until the fellow with the clipboard saw my reusable bags. “Oh, you’re one of those,” he said with an eye-roll, because as you know, someone like me who likes to wear labels, shops at Costco and makes mac-and-cheese out of a box (when no one is looking) is such a hippie.
So why do I support the bag ban? Why should California stick to its guns?
The B Corp movement continues its momentum, with almost 1,200 certified B corporations spread across 37 nations. Earlier this year the first electricity utility achieved B Corp certification. And last week the “Impact Economy” organization scored its first publicly owned company and largest addition to date: Natura, the second largest cosmetics manufacturer in Brazil with revenues around $US3 billion annually.
Natura, founded in 1969, has always beaten taken a different drum compared to its competitors within the cosmetics sector. The company’s products are generally based on native Brazilian flora, provided such plants can be harvested in a sustainable manner as required by the company’s “bioprospecting” policy. The same products have long been encased in packaging made from recycled or at least recyclable materials. Natura is also a founding member of the Union for Ethical BioTrade and has been praised for including everyday women in its advertising campaigns instead of supermodels. This new B Corp certification will not only burnish Natura’s reputation in the marketplace, but will have more far reaching effects as well.
Judging from many of the comments floating around the internet, bicycling blogs and on Reddit, Melbourne does not have the most bicycling-friendly reputation. But cycling to work is catching on, in part because the state of Victoria requires new buildings to have bicycle racks and showering facilities. Plus the weather is mild most of the year. One bank accepting bicycling whole heartedly is ANZ (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group). The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) has already named ANZ as the most sustainable bank in the world on a regular basis: naming it the globe’s most cycling-friendly bank would hardly be a stretch.