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Beyond Politics: The Forces of Sustainability

Caroline Rennie identifies the forces that will determine whether mankind has a promising future.

There are moments when we forget the daily jockeying of self-interest and come together as one to solve something that affects us all. Natural disasters galvanise not only those populations involved, but also the sympathetic world: think of the hurricane in New Orleans, the tsunami in Thailand, the earthquake in Haiti and now the two disasters in Japan.

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Caroline Rennie identifies the forces that will determine whether mankind has a promising future.

There are moments when we forget the daily jockeying of self-interest and come together as one to solve something that affects us all. Natural disasters galvanise not only those populations involved, but also the sympathetic world: think of the hurricane in New Orleans, the tsunami in Thailand, the earthquake in Haiti and now the two disasters in Japan.

The recent financial crisis demonstrated that banking activities in a single country can threaten banking systems globally. The crisis in Japan shows how a paralysing shock in one area can so limit parts supply that it shuts down manufacturing facilities globally. And China’s hold on rare earth metals, which it qualifies as a ‘strategic reserve’, enables it to hamstring manufacturing globally, as does Arab countries’ hold on oil.

So our interconnectedness ties us together as a global community. And nowhere is this more critical than in dealing with the environmental problems that threaten our ability to feed ourselves, live safely and ensure we bequeath a fruitful and healthy planet to our children. No country is independent of the economic and environmental effects of other countries’ actions. It seems evident that governments globally should be coming together to manage these issues.

But they are not. Or at least not successfully. Remember the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen? Failed. The follow-up in Cancún? Failed again, in the sense that events in the real world move faster than the negotiations.

If our governments fail us, are we doomed? To answer this, we’ll consider the various forces of sustainability.

Business opportunities

When the world’s largest conglomerate, General Electric, states that it wants its ‘green’ business to grow at twice the rate of its conventional business, and applies investment to that end, Big Money is talking Big Time. Ten years ago there was one electric car at the auto shows and General Motors was making derisory remarks. Today every company has at least one electric model, and most have more. The organic/health food sections of shops that used to be relegated to dark corners now represent the only growing segment of the grocery sector.

Insurers

Companies that insure insurance companies, like SwissRe, have been involved in sustainability and climate change issues for over 20 years. They calculate that, while average insured losses owing to natural catastrophe were $5 billion/year between 1970 and 1989, they increased five-fold between 1990 and 2009 to $27.1 billion/yr. And last year they doubled to over $50 billion/yr, thus raising the costs of doing business for those affected by climate change.

Such companies are also hosting conferences and representing governmental delegations to sustainability summits, because they understand that feedback loops and longer timescales are beyond our political cycle’s ability to manage.

Investors

Investors face the same issues. Many of the world’s largest banks and investor groups have come together to understand the impacts of climate change so that they can price investments accurately. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) represents “551 institutional investors, holding US$71 trillion in assets under management and some 60 purchasing organisations such as Cadbury, PepsiCo and Wal-Mart”. Over 3,000 organisations report their impacts on the climate and its impact on their business, and increasingly their supply chains are reporting too. The CDP has broadened its reporting to include water and stimulated an equivalent forum for forests.

Transparency

Reporting improves performance. The US Toxics Release Inventory required companies to report on their emissions and effluent in every factory. They weren’t required to limit or clean up those emissions, but the information enabled local community groups, national NGOs, the government and investors to see what was happening. Companies were embarrassed and reduced their toxic releases voluntarily.

Today’s international equivalent – the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) – includes Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and Chile.

Transparency can be involuntary – think back to Nike and the sweatshop accusations or Greenpeace finding unusable electronics from Hampshire being shipped illegally to markets in Nigeria. Think of WikiLeaks!

But increasingly it is voluntary as brands use traceability to build trust and confidence. Examples include Timberland, which allows you to see online where your garments were made and how they were transported, and M&S, which guarantees customers its beef and lamb were reared by specific suppliers to exceptionally high welfare standards.

Brand value

Brand value has driven most of the sustainability changes to date – first through marketing and talk (exposed by NGOs) and now through genuine action. Retailers like M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are racing to ‘outgreen’ each other. They ask suppliers to provide products and services that lower climate impact, waste and toxics, while improving logistics, savings and efficiency. Key examples are detergents: now increasingly concentrated, in reduced packaging, refillable and effective with cold water.

Activism and goodwill

Brand value is a terrific lever for NGOs. Linking a particular brand (KitKat) to a particular effect (rainforest destruction and the extermination of orang-utans) is emotive, compelling and newsworthy. Greenpeace was successful in getting Nestlé to overhaul its procurement policy to ensure sustainable sources of forest products. Hugh’s Fish Fight has used this sensitivity to advantage by consistently naming names, ensuring accountability and exerting pressure.

Brand value also drives goodwill. Roberto Goizueta, former CEO of Coca-Cola, described goodwill as the key to ensuring he could afford to rebuild if every one of his plants burned down.
And we mustn’t forget the important role of staff, customers and labour organisations in influencing organisational behaviour.

Competitors

Nothing focuses the attention like a successful product launch from a competitor. Industry leaders in particular can get paralysed by success. When Ecover was launched, Unilever laughed. Now Ecover is a global brand and Unilever is trying to copy it. The same goes for hybrid electric cars, ‘slave-free’ chocolate and most fair-trade products.

Loss of market focuses even more. When a disruptive technology like the iPod eliminates the need for thousands of CDs, entire industries are wiped out. Shai Agassi is introducing a ‘battery-swapping’ system so charging an electric car will take 30 seconds rather than hours. This applies to countries too: investing in infrastructure that decreases costs and increases efficiency makes them more competitive to talent and companies.

Ethics

Let’s not forget the powerful drive of ethics, religion and morality. Humans typically respond extraordinarily well to a call to a higher purpose. Sustainability represents such a call – but the call has been muddled by contradictory claims and advice. Some religious leaders have taken to asking congregations and followers to steward the Earth in the name of social justice, future generations and caring for creation (tearful.org, Muslim Green Guide, Jews & Climate). Leaving the world better than we found it is a powerful idea.

Joined-up thinking

To get sustainability right requires joined-up thinking – among sectors and countries. Recycling proves this can happen – local authorities work with collectors, investors support recycling operations, industry rewrites specifications for recycled materials, and materials travel across borders safely and legally. Twenty years ago recycling quantities were laughable. Today they represent a source of materials so important that even household names like Coca-Cola are investing in recycling capacity – to get material for their packaging.

So could it be that NGOs, businesses and citizen-consumers are sufficient to create a sustainable world? We’re strongly on the way. Ten years ago, the CDP didn’t exist. Today over 75 percent of its 3,000+ respondents have climate change strategies. Companies have moved beyond reporting on operations and are reporting on full supply chains. The transparency created by the web and projects like MIT’s TrashTrack increasingly enables us to follow where our stuff comes from, how it was made and where it ends up. So it’s no longer government that’s building accountability – it’s us.

We behave as if whoever has the most toys wins. But competing for increasingly scarce resources (a stable climate, oil, phosphorous, clean water, fertile and safe land) is too short-term a proposition to enable any single country to ‘win’.

Caroline Rennie is founder and managing partner of ren-new, working with people in organizations to make sustainability profitable. ren-new.com

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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