Are Carbon Tariffs a Good Idea?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Imposing a tax on imported goods that are carbon-intensive is an idea being tossed around as much these days as driftwood on a shore. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “If other countries don’t impose a cost on carbon, then we will be at a disadvantage…[and] we would look at considering perhaps duties that would offset that cost.”

Earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke mentioned carbon tariffs while speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shangai. “It’s important that those who consume the products being made all around the world to the benefit of America — and it’s our own consumption activity that’s causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that,” he said. Locke later told reporters that Chinese officials expressed concerned about carbon tariffs. “They feel in essence it’s a tax on their carbon activity,” Locke said.

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All-Electric Commercial Vehicles: Now Available in the U.S.

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 4 Comments

Photo Credit: Vi Photography

I have heard the future.  And it sounds… quiet.  As a new transplant to DC, I started accepting road noise and grimy air as inevitabilities of city life.  On Tuesday, Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles, showed me an alternative.  (Thank you, Bryan.)

On Tuesday, at the footsteps of the US Capitol, six companies accepted keys to their brand-new Smith Newton vehicles, the world’s largest all-electric truck.

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Building an Organizational Culture of Sustainability: Compliance to Commitment

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

tai-chi“Have To” vs “Want To”

We all know individuals who are committed to living sustainably, conscious of the impact their daily lives have on the environment. They may take public transport, bike, or walk wherever they can, rather than drive. Perhaps they recycled their bottles long before it became popular, or used their kitchen and garden waste to make compost. Like some people, there are companies that were ahead of the curve, openly calling out sustainability as an integral part of their mission – companies like Seventh Generation, The Body Shop, and Whole Foods.

Today, it’s no longer just these true believers who embrace sustainability. There is an ever-growing number of individuals and companies who take sustainability very seriously, even though they never started out with that conscious intention. How does that (rather dramatic) change come about?

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Sensors Will Not Remedy Agribusiness Ills

Tori Okner | Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment

hog farm imageWith swine flue spreading around the world, the Israeli company Cartasense captured much of the media spotlight at the spring Agritech conference in Tel Aviv. Cartasense is developing, “solutions for real time monitoring of agriculture goods…based on low cost tags.” Their sensors record conditions wirelessly; their pitch suggests increased access to health data can improve oversight and prevent the spread of disease.

With the rapid transmission of swine flu and the emerging link to the food industry, there’s a growing hunger for good news about agribusiness. According to Agritech co-Chair and Director of foreign relations for Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Arie Regev, the exhibition targets a foreign audience.

Yet, there’s a disconnect between their marketing and the industry they’re trying to woo…

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Greenpeace Goes Guerilla in its War with HP

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment

hp-greenpeace-roofGreenpeace has started a war of sorts. Ironic? Not really, considering its adversary, Hewlett Packard (HP), and the two organizations’ history of contempt. The eco activist network has taken on HP, which Greenpeace claims is producing hazardous chemicals and not making sufficient efforts to change its ways.

It all began in 2007, when HP promised to phase out dangerous substances, including BFR flame retardants and PVC plastics, from its products. (BFRs and PVC are highly toxic, and, when burned, release a chemical known to cause cancer.) HP lagged on fulfilling its promise, and in March 2009, Greenpeace rated HP low on Greenpeace’s Green Meter (HP’s e-waste rating was among the lowest of all PC makers rated). When this tactic did not prompt a change in HP’s behavior, Greenpeace, apparently, snapped. Today, it sent activists to the HP headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Its tactics, this time, were a bit rogue: activists painted an 11,500-square-foot “Hazardous Products” message on HP buildings (in non-toxic finger-paint). Actor William Shatner also pitched in by leaving automated messages for HP employees, requesting that they address the problem.

HP’s position on the issue is, according to an email reported by Cnet News, quite different: it claims to have a commitment to “reducing the use of BFR/PVC in [its] products until these materials are eliminated entirely. [It] has introduced several new… products this year that use less BFR/PVC than previous generations.” It also claims to be a “worldwide leader in e-waste recycling.”

It looks like the war games may continue unresolved….

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Small-time Wind Energy – Too Good to be True?

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 2 Comments

turbines-on-building

When I heard the government had created incentives to encourage individuals to install small wind turbines at their homes and businesses, I was stoked. Perhaps the incentive would bring alternative energy into people’s living rooms, so to speak – out of the abstract and into real life. But a recent EcoGeek.org review of one wind power product – the Honeywell Home Wind Turbine by EarthTronics – has me wondering: will consumer disillusionment by potential flaws in small-time wind energy sources impede the renewable energy movement?

The EcoGeek reviewer watched Honeywell’s promotional video, which describes the six-foot-wide turbine as being able to generate more than 1,500 kilowatts per year, meet 30 percent of consumers’ energy needs (when run in conjunction with a fluorescent light bulb, which comes with the turbine), and pay for itself in one to three years (in many states). The turbine costs $4,500.

The EcoGeek reviewer’s beef with Honeywell’s claims was, primarily, that the promo video did not qualify its figures. It should have mentioned, for example, that it its definition of the “average household’s energy consumption” as being 10- to 11,000 kilowatts per year – lower, the EcoGeek reviewer believes, than the energy consumption of households most likely to purchase the turbine. Moreover, with an initial investment of $4,500, and an anticipated electricity cost of 12 cents per kilowatt in 2010, how can the turbine pay for itself in just three years? (At 12 cents per kilowatt and, say, 1,580 kilowatts per year, the turbine would only produce $189.60 in electricity per year – a rate at which it would take consumers 23 years to pay off the $4,500.)

The reviewer goes on to imply that emerging “everyday Joe” renewable energy sources may just be fads, comparable to those of the computer industry in the early 90’s (consumers plopped down money for the latest, greatest technology, which turned out to be obsolete). This conclusion is understandable, given his take on the Honeywell turbine. Let’s just hope that the wind energy industry will be similar to the computer industry in other ways: able to make progress as technology improves, to become a household name, and, ultimately, to secure a lasting place in the renewable energy industry worldwide.

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Will Renewable Energy in Europe Need a Bailout?

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Undoubtedly, switching to renewable energy is a priority for many countries. But making the switch isn’t easy, even for developed nations. According to an Environmental Leader report, all of Europe is struggling to keep its wind and solar markets afloat, much less make them prosperous. Is a bailout an order?

Falling prices, decreased demand, and the credit crunch are to blame, the report says. Key players in the renewable energy market are faced with touch choices: possibly shifting production of solar modules to Asia, and accepting giant wind energy-funding loans from the UK. Not what Europe had in mind when it launched solar and wind energy programs, no doubt.

Shifting solar cell production to Asia would, analysts believe, combat the rapid decrease in prices and market shares in the solar sector, while allowing Europe to compete with more-successful Asian competitors. Asian companies have voluntarily lowered their prices to steal market shares, while European solar cell and module production companies have a product surplus (which has forced their selling prices down). China, in particular, poses a significant challenge to the European solar market. Last year, China accounted for approximately 33 percent of global solar cell production, while Europe’s share declined to 25.6 percent. Moreover, last week, China unveiled an incentive program that will, by providing 50 percent subsidies for investment in solar power projects, further reduce China’s production costs (which are already the lowest in the world).

Meanwhile, accepting loans may be Europe’s most viable option for improving its wind energy industry, which suffers from a lack of funding. (The Guardian reports that this lack of cash stems, in part, from Conservative party councils’ blocking of three times more wind farms than they approve.) Case in point: the UK’s only major wind turbine source, Vestas, has threatened to close its manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight because of the weakness of the domestic market. The UK is expected to kick start 1 gigawatt of onshore wind plans (stalled, currently, by the credit crunch) with a £1 billion ($1.6 billion) loan. The European Investment Bank, too, is loaning an additional £4 billion ($6.6 billion) to support UK energy projects.

Environmentalists and policy institutes are reportedly urging the government to utilize state equity stakes in banks (gained in last autumn’s bailout) to fund sustainability projects.

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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

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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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