Despite the 3-year-old drought in the western U.S. and pleas from California Gov. Jerry Brown to conserve 20 percent more water, water use has instead risen by 1 percent in the state. This disappointing outcome illustrates that voluntary reductions have so far proved to be ineffective. Yet a contributing factor could be that consumers are not without good intentions, but rather are lacking the proper tools to do the right thing. As the saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and traditionally, the tools for consumers to measure their water use have been pretty weak.
Typically, a bill from the water utility arrives in the mailbox showing a three-month history of water usage data in terms of “units,” which as a measure is hard for the average householder to visualize. And in any case, the bill doesn’t allow an easy assessment as to whether those units used were reasonable or excessive.
Addressing this knowledge gap, Redwood City, California-based startup Dropcountr is about to launch its service to provide tools to both consumers and utilities in a clear and visual format — which will allow this scarce resource to be better managed. I recently spoke to Dropcountr’s CEO, Robb Barnitt, to learn more about its service and how it might prompt more efficient use of water.
The West African Ebola crisis continues to gather pace. With the devastating illness proving fatal in around 55 percent of cases — compared with up to 90 percent in previous infections – it has already taken the lives of around 1,000 people in the current outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) just declared the current Ebola crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea a public health emergency and recognizes this as the most serious outbreak of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976.
In the nearly four decades since the virus emerged, there is no known cure, and no vaccine has been discovered to inoculate individuals against it. Furthermore, because the illness afflicts the poorest segments of the population in developing countries, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, there’s no business model for developing pharmaceutical solutions for the virus. Those companies pioneering the few experimental drugs have found funding elusive in order to fully develop them, failing accordingly to bring any treatments to market in the notoriously expensive drug discovery process.
Consequently, the only approach in terms of care-giving, for now at least, is containment. Humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief, collaborating with 16 corporations, is directing its efforts towards getting essential supplies to locally-run entities to stem the spread of the disease. Last week, we spoke to Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, to learn how the organization is making a difference on the ground in what appears to be one of the few hopeful stories regarding the Ebola crisis.
The fashion business is close to being a $2 trillion industry globally, and with a growing population predicted to reach 9 billion people by 2050, demand for apparel is going to only grow as we head into the future.
The strain on resources to meet burgeoning demand has smart businesses in the industry taking a long-term view as to how the fashion landscape will be forced to change, since those constraints are almost certainly going to disrupt the business-as-usual model we have today, which is often of an industry built around a cheap and disposable product.
So how will peering into the future drive the industry to adapt to growing resource constraints, and how will this impact the design process to make the fashion industry more sustainable? Furthermore, how will the next generation of fashion designers respond, and drive the industry to meet the challenge?
Over the last several months we have been tracking the progress of Asia Pulp and Paper’s (APP) efforts to manage its supply chain in a more responsible way. Following longstanding campaigns against the company and its customers, in February 2013, APP announced a comprehensive Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), in which the company committed to zero deforestation commensurate with its forest clearing moratorium. Later, the company went further still with a commitment to stop processing natural forest fiber in its pulp and paper mills from any pulpwood supplier.
Now, APP has gone a step further still with its announcement on April 28 that in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, APP will conserve and restore 1 million hectares of forest across vital landscapes in Indonesia.
This is a significant development, because while Greenpeace already ceased its campaign against APP last year with the announcement of the FCP, other groups, World Wildlife Fund notable among them, withheld their full support because APP’s conservation policy did not address the company’s legacy of forest destruction.
This week at the Abu Dhabi Ascent climate meeting in the United Arab Emirates, renewable energy company Masdar, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), announced that it will sponsor the region’s first solar electric car competition to take place in the UAE next January. The event will coincide with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, while the completion will be at the opening ceremony of The World Future Energy Summit.
The challenge, which is sanctioned by the International Solarcar Federation (ISF), invites student teams from 20 countries around the world to participate in the four-day event — which will take place over a 1,200 kilometer (750 mile) course, comprised of both urban and desert environments. The winner of the endurance event will be the team that completes the course in the shortest overall time.
While California is in the grip of drought after one of the driest years on record, reigniting an interest in desalination to augment supplies, in other regions of the world, such as parts of the Middle East, it’s never expected that rainfall in any given year will be sufficient to meet demand. In the United Arab Emirates, desalination is already a major source of water for the country, representing 30 percent of its water supply and constituting the primary source of potable water.
But the UAE — with a rapidly growing population, 90 percent of whom are foreigners working in the country — still draws 65 percent of its water from ground supplies, which officials realize is not a sustainable resource. Consequently, desalination is increasingly important to address the nation’s long-term water security; the Gulf region as a whole, already accounts for about 50 percent of the world’s desalination capacity.
However, present technology is highly energy intensive, and UAE based Masdar announced yesterday at the high-level United Nations “Abu Dhabi Ascent” climate meeting, that it has awarded contracts to four companies to demonstrate next-generation seawater desalination technologies which will be substantially more energy efficient.
The opening speeches at the high-level U.N. meeting on climate change at Abu Dhabi Ascent on Sunday constituted a rallying call to world leaders; a declaration that it’s time to stop talking and start taking action.
Proceedings opened with a welcome speech by Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change. Citing the recent IPCC report on climate change, he told the audience: “We have before us only 15 years to address decades of environmentally harmful activities, and to prevent a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Centigrade,” adding later, “If we are to successfully mitigate climate change, then we must commit to a decade of action.”
Following Dr. Al Jaber, Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, reinforced the message with a sombre warning: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time … If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone.” His rallying message came towards the end of his speech when he said, “Climate action is feasible, affordable and beneficial … Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.”
May 4-5, a special two-day, high-level United Nations meeting — “Abu Dhabi Ascent” — will convene in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with the aim “to reinvigorate government and private sector actions needed to seriously address global climate change.”
The conference was formally announced in February by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and United Arab Emirates Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, and it will gather global leaders from government, the private sector and civil society. The meeting is in advance of the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit 2014, being held on September 23 in New York, “in an effort to bolster and catalyze climate action proposals.”
There’s apparently a saying at Ford Motor Co. that empowers development: “Great products, strong business, better world,” so says Thomas Niemann, Ford’s new social sustainability manager. Niemann recently took over for David Berdish, who was appointed to the role by Bill Ford Jr. in 1999. Back in those days, the term — and the role, for that matter — of corporate social responsibility (CSR) was not really mainstream.
The “better world” part is a key element of Berdish’s legacy and is in many ways a reflection of Bill Ford Jr.’s values as well. Since 1999, the company has spent considerable effort promoting better working conditions and human rights around the world where Ford does business.
Last week a delegation of British companies supported by U.K. Trade and Investment attended the sustainable-development advocacy conference Globe 2014, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to showcase the country’s expertise in low-carbon solutions and sustainability innovations. U.K. Trade and Investment (UKTI) is the British Foreign Offices’ business development arm which aims to promote U.K. businesses abroad, as well as attract foreign investment in the country, with an overarching aim of creating job growth.
Despite the fact that the U.K. is a small country and is not a huge emitter of carbon in the global context, it has nonetheless set ambitious environmental policies, like reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, since the U.K. operates under the European Emissions Trading Scheme, regulatory incentives exist for companies to develop innovations that will help meet emissions targets.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Rosenfeld, Vice Consul – USA Clean Technology Sector Lead for UKTI, about the strengths of the U.K. clean tech industry and how its businesses are poised to be competitive players on the global stage.
Despite some early March rain in California, and a few storm systems moving in this week, the late season moisture will sadly fall far short of that which is needed to pull the state out of its four-year drought. Attention has consequently turned towards how California will ensure reliable water supplies in years ahead, should precipitation levels remain below average.
One source that will grow in importance is desalination, and it could end up being a pretty big business. Environmental Leader reported earlier this month that the components alone for desalination activity will constitute a $5 billion industry by 2015, and while this spend would not be confined to California, the report, conducted by the McIlvaine Co., describes the state as being at the epicenter of global desalination activity.
According to SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online news outlet, 17 desalination plants are in the planning stages in the state of California, and of these, the largest one in Carlsbad, near San Diego, is two years away from completion. When the plant is switched on, it will be the biggest desalination facility in the Western Hemisphere, taking water from the Pacific Ocean and turning it into around 50 million gallons of potable water daily — serving 110,000 customers in San Diego County.
A new survey of American consumers provides some potentially surprising findings that indicate American food shoppers are very mindful about what they place into their shopping carts, and it’s not just about price and taste.
While food commercials on television constantly bombard Americans with offerings that focus on price-point and convenience, a 2014 survey by Cone Communications found that people care about where their food comes from and how it is produced. In a poll of more than 1,000 people from a broad cross-section of the shopping public, 77 percent of respondents said sustainability was an important factor in deciding what to buy, while 74 percent said buying locally was a significant factor.
According to the EPA, buildings in the U.S. account for 36 percent of total energy used in the country and 65 percent of all electricity consumption, so any improvements in building energy efficiency that can be made provide a tremendous opportunity for huge benefits. That said, when it comes to energy, funding has tended to flow more freely towards renewable energy generation projects than towards energy efficiency projects — effectively creating a barrier to necessary work, which would otherwise make the country’s buildings far greener.
One energy efficiency and demand response financier is seeking to address this problem. “What is missing in the energy efficiency industry is akin to what is allowing solar to take off now,” says Mike Gordon, CEO of Joule Assets Inc, “There has been no ability to create investments, which can be re-bundled and sold to investors down the line.”
By doing just this, Joule Assets plans to correct the shortfall in energy efficiency projects by providing access to the necessary financing that will allow small- and medium-size contractors to unlock the potential in the market for energy efficiency work.
At the end of January, environmental science and conservation news site Mongabay, reported that Indonesian Paper giant, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd (APRIL) had announced a new environmental policy aimed to stem criticism about its forestry practices, which continue to be deleterious to Indonesia’s natural rain forests.
APRIL is Indonesia’s second largest pulp and paper producer after Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), and the two account for about 80 percent of the country’s total pulp and paper output. In recent months we have written extensively about APP’s ongoing commitment to their forest clearing moratorium and increasing transparency under their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) – so APRIL’s announcement at face value is a welcome one; However it’s also one, as Mongabay says, that has been “immediately blasted” by activist groups.
Last week, Tesla announced that it would build a new “Gigafactory” to produce lithium-ion batteries at a rate able to support the manufacture of 500,000 electric cars per year. By 2020, the plant will be capable of producing as many lithium-ion batteries as the entire world produced in 2013.
The Gigafactory, Tesla says, will support 6,500 jobs directly, and according to a post on the company’s blog, the company expects that volume manufacturing of its mass-market vehicle will drive down the cost-per-kWh of its batteries by 30 percent in the first year.
The mass-market vehicle, yet to be released, will be designated the Model E. According to a report in TechCrunch, it will be 20 percent smaller than the current Model S, with a target range of 200 miles. While that’s fewer than the maximum range of the Model S, it’s ahead of any other pure EV currently on the market. Cheaper batteries may be crucial in cutting costs sufficiently to allow the company to produce the more affordable car, but the new factory also plays into more diverse plans for the company.