Oil Firms in a Wad over Nigeria’s Energy Industry Overhaul

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

oil-rig-sunsetNigeria’s plans for overhauling its oil and gas industry are not going over so well with, well, the oil and gas industry. At a public hearing Tuesday, officials from numerous international oil companies (including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Eni SpA, and Royal Dutch Shell) voiced unanimous disapproval of a bill intended to revitalize the nation’s oil industry.

Nigeria’s oil industry is struggling; it has suffered from attacks on pipelines, deteriorating infrastructure, and growing bureaucratic obstacles, the Wall Street Journal reports. The industry has, accordingly, halted production of more than one million barrels of oil a day. This is an urgent problem, since oil exports comprise nearly 100 percent of Nigeria’s export revenue.

The bill, initiated in 2007 by Nigeria’s president and still in-progress, includes several fundamental changes. It would allow the government to charge higher royalties for every oil barrel produced, impose higher tax rates for companies operating in Nigeria, renegotiate existing deep-water contracts, and reclaim unexplored fields (even those already contracted to companies).

Oil firms object to the bill because the changes it would impose would cost them billions of dollars. They also believe it would drastically decrease investment in Nigeria’s oil industry by foreign firms. The bill isn’t yet in its final iteration, and oil companies are attempting to influence its final form. Some of the oil companies claim their input has not been “heard” in the tweaking-of-the-bill process.

The effect of implementing legislation oil firms disapprove of on those firms is clear. But what effect would it have on Nigeria? This is to be determined….

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Sustainable Minds Makes Life Cycle Analysis Easy

Steve Puma | Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 1 Comment

Okala LogoPaper or plastic? Diesel or hybrid? Extrude or blow-mold? Some of the most difficult problems in designing sustainable products involve making the right choices in materials, processes and transportation methods. However, choosing the options that will actually have a lower environmental impact is much more complex that one would think.

Deciding what metrics to use, where to draw the boundaries and how to compare wildly different materials is a highly involved and technical art known as Life-Cycle Analysis, or LCA. Sustainable Minds, a Boston-based software company, is making LCA much more accessible to designers with its new web-based software service. I was recently able to see the software in action at a seminar entitled, “Mastering Environmental Impact Assessment in the Design Process”
As Pratt Institute professor and ecologist Christopher X J. Jensen, Ph.D., explains, while quantitative methods, such as LCA are the best ways to measure the environmental impact of a product, these methods need to be applied by scientists, and do not jibe well with the qualitative methods generally used by designers to evaluate the aesthetics of a product design.

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Australian Climate Change Legislation Could Cause an Early Election

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

2007-01-31t040239z_01_nootr_rtridsp_2_oukwd-uk-australia-climateAustralia’s inaugural cap-and-trade legislation is causing the nation’s political climate to heat up so much that it has now become the deciding factor between whether or not the country will see an early election this year.

The country’s opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, has made it clear that his coalition will vote against the nation’s first-ever climate change legislation next month, unless the bill is amended from its current form.  Known as the Carbon Reduction Pollution Scheme (CRPS), the bill was originally presented to the upper house Senate in June, 2009.  The bill is slated for a second vote on August 13th and according to Australia’s laws, if the bill does not pass on it’s second time through, the Australian Labor government will have reason to call for a snap election.

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Sugar Cane-Based Polyethylene – a Green Plastic Option?

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

sugarcane-stalksPolyethylene is not typically a fave among sustainability proponents; after all, it’s plastic, its production process is environmentally draining, and it is not all that recyclable. But if Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem S.A. has its way, environmentalists may soon have a viable polyethylene option. Braskem has created a polyethylene made from sugarcane, which it is marketing as being eco-friendly. But are its claims valid?

Braskem is creating the product using “bioethanol derived from sugarcane – non-grain feedstock,” a Braskem press release says. As far as ethanol sources go, sugar cane is more environmentally friendly than corn, The Renewable Corporation reports: sugarcane produces a high yield, is relatively easy to grow and process, and is not grown in rainforest areas (of particular importance in Brazil). Brasken’s press release claims sugar cane-based polyethylene will have several environmental benefits: it will “contribute significantly to CO2 emission reductions,” not require construction of new production facilities, and be useful for a number of products (including plastic containers and automotive parts).

However, concerns about the environmental harm of ethanol abound; some are expressed in a report by the National Center for Policy Analysis. Aptly titled The Environmental Costs of Ethanol, the report suggests that ethanol reduces fuel economy, corrodes pipelines and other transmission equipment, diverts land from other uses, does endanger the rainforests, and pollutes the air. Heads up, sugarcane polyethylene enthusiasts.

Braskem contracted with Toyota Tsusho Corporation to market the product in Asian regions including Japan; the companies began marketing the product in 2008. Braskem aims to produce the sugarcane polyethylene on an industrial scale by 2011. Other organizations, including the Dow Chemical Company and Crystalsev (among Brazil’s biggest ethanol players) – have already jumped on the sugarcane- polyethylene-producing bandwagon, AllBusiness reports.

Until all the research is tallied and policy catches up, it behooves the consumer to beware.

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Amtrak Ups its Carbon Footprint-Reducing Efforts

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Amtrak-trainAttention, eco-travelers: traveling by Amtrak, America’s most extensive rail system, may soon be a more viable option for green travel enthusiasts. Amtrak has recently joined the Climate Registry, a non-profit dedicated to helping businesses calculate and report their greenhouse gas emissions transparently. As part of Amtrak’s attempts to become greener, it has pledged to reduce emissions (from diesel locomotives) by six percent from 2003 through 2010.

According to an Amtrak press release, it will reduce emissions through a number of measures: it will adopt comprehensive reporting standards for greenhouse gas emissions from locomotives (diesel and electric), passenger rail cars, maintenance equipment, and facilities. It will also reduce the idling time for diesel locomotives and use regenerative braking systems for electric locomotives (thus returning energy to the grid).

Amtrak has taken a number of additional sustainability-related actions. It is already a charter member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, North America’s only “cap and trade” system for all six greenhouse gasses. Recently, Amtrak joined Climate Counts, which rates companies’ carbon footprint reduction, their publicizing of that reduction, and their support of climate change legislation. Amtrak is also seeking to utilize lighter, more aerodynamic carrier cars and bio-lubricants for hydraulic systems. Amtrak customers may purchase carbon offsets (from a non-profit organization, Cargonfund.org); the funds benefit alternative energy or sustainable reforestation projects. And finally, Amtrak added solar arrays to a facility in New Jersey last fall.

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Cement – A Sticky Matter for Green Building Proponents

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

cementFor sustainability proponents in the UK, cement has become something of a sticky issue. The country recycles nearly a quarter of Europe’s cement waste – a respectable figure that puts the UK at lead of Europe’s cement-recycling efforts. But UK sustainability experts asserted last week that these efforts are not enough. The UK Green Building Council (GBC) endorsed a “zero landfill” target for concrete waste while encouraging continued attention to the bigger picture of sustainable construction measures.

According to a BusinessGreen.com report, the GBC initiated the concrete recycling target in response to a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI). This report underscored several noteworthy figures: each year, Europe, the U.S., and Japan alone create a whopping 900 million tons of construction and demolition waste, 20 to 80 percent of which is concrete. While the UK recycles 22 percent of that concrete, the Netherlands 21 percent, Belgium 16 percent, and Switzerland 9 percent, a lot of concrete waste still ends up in landfills. More must be done, the CSI believes.

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The Nation’s First Platinum LEED-Certified Supermarket Opens in Maine

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

hannaford-logo

July 23 was a big day for Hannaford Supermarkets, a 167-store chain serving Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. The Augusta, Maine Hannaford store obtained Platinum LEED Certification last week, making it the first supermarket in the nation to attain such a status.

The LEED system is a program run by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certifies green buildings by measuring buildings’ performance in five areas: energy usage, water efficiency, CO2 emissions, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources (and sensitivity to buildings’ environmental impact). Platinum LEED Certification is the highest level of LEED Certification.

To become Platinum LEED Certified, Hannaford constructed the Augusta store to include a number of sustainable features. For example, it is equipped with a “GreenChill” refrigeration system, which uses half the refrigerant gas of traditional cooling systems. Doors on almost all freezer and refrigerated cases conserve energy, and two geothermal wells regulate the building’s temperature. These and other measures are expected to trim the store’s energy usage by fifty percent, compared to similarly-sized traditional supermarkets.

A press release publicizing Hannaford’s Platinum LEED Certification emphasizes that the certification is but one of Hannaford’s numerous demonstrations of environmental and social responsibility. For example, the company also provides more than 3,500 natural and organic products plus hundreds of local products. Hannaford reportedly has a long history of environmental stewardship.

The LEED-Certified store is scheduled to open on July 25.

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Feel Strongly about Ethanol? Tweet Your Thoughts!

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

twitter-logo

It seems that Twitter has almost everyone all a-flutter. Even the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Yes, the RFA joined Twitter and will, on July 29, begin a bi-weekly one-hour TweetChat on the social media outlet. The chats are intended, an RFA report says, to fuel conversation on all things biofuel-related (pun intended).

The kick-off chat on July 29, #FuelChat, will focus on the topic of Ethanol use in America – a topic involving issues such as E15, E85, small engines, blender pumps, and others. In subsequent chats, the RFA will seek to involve expert opinion holders, policymakers, and other influential figures, as well as everyday Americans. ZimmComm will moderate the chat.

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Greenpeace Joins the Effort to Reduce China’s Carbon Footprint

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

smokestack

Greenpeace is known for taking on ambitious projects (to make an understatement). Accordingly, Greenpeace recently publicized its findings on China’s carbon footprint in a report entitled, “Polluting Power: Ranking China’s Power Companies.” The activist network is now calling for action, Reuters reports.

Greenpeace found alarming statistics in China’s coal usage: the country obtains more than two-thirds of its energy from coal, a cheap and abundant fuel source in China. Last year alone, China’s 10 biggest power generators together burned through 600 million tons of coal (about 20 percent of the country’s output), creating the equivalent of 1.44 billion tons of CO2. The three largest power firms created more than half of those emissions: 769 million tons – more than the emissions of all power firms in the UK combined (which produced a mere 623.8 million tons of CO2 in 2008).

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Office Furniture and Sustainability: Steelcase Releases CSR Report

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

steelcase-truck

Steelcase, a global office furniture corporation, has released its latest Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report. The report details the company’s efforts meet its goals of reducing its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2012 (a coincidence that it’s Steelcase’s 100th anniversary?). If the report is accurate, consumers of Steelcase-produced furniture who are concerned about their purchases’ sustainability may be able to sit back and relax a little more easily.

So far this year, the company has implemented several initiatives designed to trim its greenhouse gas emissions and improves its sustainability. For example, Steelcase has changed the packaging of several of its products, ditching old anti-sustainability mantras like “one chair, one carton.” Instead, the company will utilize “Eco-Smart packaging”, which will involve minimal packaging (30 percent less for some items) or, in some cases, no packaging at all (the company will ship half the seating products manufactured at its Kentwood, Michigan plant without packing them). Using less packaging will have the added benefit of saving space on transportation vehicles, which will help Steelcase reduce its fuel usage and other transport-related harms.

Steelcase is also striving to improve the yield of trees it sources. Interesting factoid: trees harvested prior to maturity release more carbon dioxide into the environment. To address this problem, Steelcase is collaborating with Purdue University to reduce the trees’ growth cycle by ten years, which would allow the trees to mature and still be harvested within Steelcase’s requisite production time frame.

The company is also continuing its work with the Green Suppliers Network, an organization that, in cooperation with the EPA, “greens” suppliers. Currently, Steelcase is the leader of all Green Suppliers Network participants in regards to the number of organizations it has referred to the Network.

According to a May, 2009 ClimateBiz interview with Steelcase’s director of Global Environmental Sustainability, Angela Nahikian, the company has been, for most of its 100-year life, an innovator in sustainability practices in the industry. Nahikian described the key to Steelcase’s sustainability as its approach: Steelcase seeks to understand the chemistry and construction of its products from beginning to end, including products’ design, construction, and disposal or recycle. Nahikian described Steelcase’s eco-friendly vision as one of “radical evolution.”

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High Speed Rail? Not So Fast.

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

High Speed RailHigh speed rail is like soccer – Americans want to like it, but it’s still much more popular in Europe.

President Obama included an ambitious high speed rail (HSR) plan as part of his Stimulus Package, and plans are moving forward. But now a recent report (PDF), out of Europe no less, questions one of the basic assumptions of HSR: that it is any cleaner than flying.

A recent study by Booz Allen Hamilton, commissioned by the UK Department for Transport, suggests that the net CO2 emissions of a proposed HSR line from London to Manchester would be greater, over 60 years, than if it was never built at all – even if every air passenger switched to rail. Currently, rail holds a 54% share of the air/rail market between the cities.

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How Logistics Are Making Cleantech Blow in the Wind

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

The challenges facing the wind industry and the opportunities they create.

Wind FarmEver since T. Boone Pickens announced his plan to sell off 667 turbines, effectively decimating plans for the largest wind farm in the world, the wind industry has come under increased scrutiny and criticism.

Kate Galbraith, a blogger for NY Times’ Green Inc., has recently run an interesting series on the challenges facing this cleantech sector. As she chronicles, the biggest challenges facing the wind sector are not harvesting wind, but the expensive and potentially dangerous logistics associated with it, from transportation and erection of turbines—ironically, the wind itself is one of the largest inhibitors—to transmission of the power generated.

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Salmonella, In-Your-Guts Flame Resistance, and More – The Latest from the Meat Industry

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 1 Comment

Interesting how something as small and basic as a bacterium can consistently make the front page headlines. Boulder County news sources reported that last Thursday, three people in Boulder, Colorado tested positive for the strain of salmonella found in ground beef recalled in June. Authorities had recalled the beef, which was sold at King Soopers stores, after 23 area residents fell ill from consuming it. The chain subsequently recalled 466,236 pounds of ground beef products.

Salmonella is an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans. In humans, salmonella infection causes diarrheal illness, fever, or abdominal cramps, and potential long-term health problems. Salmonella infection is spread through fecal matter, either by direct contact or by, say, consumption of feces-contaminated meat. Yikes. If the infection spreads beyond the intestines, antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

The King Soopers meat recall highlights several disturbing problems with the meat industry, including the often unsanitary conditions of feedlots and meat packaging facilities. Moreover, USDA meat inspection protocol did not prevent distribution of the meat to consumers. Perhaps most alarming, though, is the antibiotics factor. Many cows are fed antibiotics to make them resistant to their filthy living conditions and to aid their digestion (since most cows are fed corn, which their ruminants do not process properly). Researchers have even reportedly found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in grain distilling plants (including ethanol distillers), which sell their by-products as livestock feed. Overexposure to antibiotics fuels salmonella’s resistance to it, which is bad news for those of us down the line who shop at King Soopers.

Incidental but disturbing-and-intriguing nonetheless is the risk meat eaters (versus vegetarians) face of having flame retardants in their innards. Yes, flame retardants. Science Daily reports that flame retardants may enter the meat supply through contamination of animal feed or processing or packaging processes.

Going vegan is sounding mighty tempting…..

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NYC U.S. Postal Facility Enjoys Green Roofing First

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 2 Comments
Green Roofing

Green Roofing

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is going green, literally. Last week it unveiled its first green roof, which tops the USPS Morgan mail processing facility in New York City. The roof, which is the largest green roof in NYC, will, expectedly, help the facility reduce its energy usage (by 30 percent by 2015) and pollution runoff (by up to 35 to 75 percent, depending on the season).

Environmental Leader reports that the green roof’s approximate 50-year lifespan is twice that of the roof it replaced (which was built in 1933). The green roof will, like its non-green predecessor, span 2.2 million square feet (nearly 2.5 acres). It will also support 200 pounds-per-square-foot of soil, vegetation, and other green roofing components. The roof nourishes a number of native plants and is furnished with certified-sustainable wood benches.

Estimates suggest that, while the initial investment for green roofing is twice that for a regular blacktop roof, green roofs last almost three times longer than blacktops and eventually pay for themselves in reduced energy bills.

The green roof construction is part of the USPS’s “greener facilities strategy”, which also includes use of renewable building materials, efficient energy and water fixtures, and other protocol. The USPS’s larger sustainability strategy has, fairly recently, also included the use of alternative fueled vehicles. According to Environmental Leader, the USPS is expected to open a LEED-certified facility soon in Long Island.

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Environmental Refugees, and the International Community, Face Formidable Challenges

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

refugees- floodThanks to climate change, there is a new-ish group of refugees: those driven from their homes because of environmental changes. These “climate refugees,” or “environmental refugees” are, according to a BBC report, a growing source of concern for human rights groups as well as economic and political stability.

The BBC report chronicles the fleeing of one Bangladeshi family from its home in rural Bogra to the slums of Dhakata – just two examples of many communities worldwide affected by climate change. The family fled floods that, while normal in Bogra, have struck with increasing severity in recent years. Analysts believe global warming, which caused the floods to increase in the first place, will cause the problem to worsen as time goes on. An estimated 30 million Bangladeshis could, in turn, become climate refugees.

Climate change-related migration could, the BBC report highlights, cause a number of political, military, and economic problems for communities to which refugees flee, surrounding areas, and the international community. Countries from which refugees flee are, some believe, likely to demand compensation from wealthy countries they believe created the problem. Meanwhile, foreign aid to struggling countries could be negatively impacted by climate change. The UK, for example – Bangladesh’s biggest donor – will be unable to meet the growing challenge with its current annual aid package of £125m. Security, too, may become a greater challenge as refugees spill over countries’ borders in search of shelter.

Columbia University’s study “In Search of Shelter” further elucidates the influence of climate change on migration and displacement. According to the study, coastal communities worldwide (including the densely populated Ganges, Mekong, and Nile River deltas) will suffer as glacier melt causes sea levels to rise. The damages will include corrosion of farmland and beach communities, housing destruction, and other dangers. Populations with ecosystem-dependent livelihoods (i.e. agriculture-related occupations) will likely experience long-term migration in the next two or three decades. Natural disasters – already the cause of most environment-related migration – will worsen.

The BBC report details the debate over possible solutions: mitigating and/or adapting to the problem by increasing funding for aid and/or countering climate change.

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