Suzanne Laidlaw from the Environment Agency writes about a new initiative that uses environmental data to inform investment decisions.
The CLEAR Info project (Company Level Environmental Accountability Reporting and Information) is a partnership project 50% funded by European commission LIFE+ and led by the Environment Agency of England. This partnership involves leaders in sustainable investment, business information and environmental data and regulation from across Europe:
– Environment Agency of England
– European Sustainable Investment Forum (Eurosif)
– University of Southampton
– Finland Ministry of the Environment
– UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
As a demonstration project, CLEAR Info aims to show that integrating site data efficiently to parent company and geographical level can not only transform disparate site and subsidiary data into influential information to enable informed engagement between the regulator and regulated companies, but that it also has the potential to increase compliance with EU legislation by informing and influencing investment decisions.
Why CLEAR Info is needed
Historically, the Environment Agency designed data systems to store compliance data as and when new legislation came into force. The result is that a potentially powerful set of data on environmental impacts are held in isolated, disconnected data sets which make it difficult to see the environmental performance of a site across regulatory regimes or to assess the potential environmental impact on a geographical area. To compound the situation further, the data held relates to around 500,000 businesses, many of which are subsidiaries owned by global parent companies based in over 30 different countries.
The issue is quite clear – a disjointed approach to data management is a missed opportunity to identify where best to target resources to protect the environment and people, to influence where businesses should take action, and to help inform where investments are made.
The CLEAR Info project aims to address this problem by developing a data integration system which brings together parent company information on business performance with environmental compliance data to:
– Compile better information on parent company environmental performance
– Generate information from environmental data which can be used to influence investment decisions in the finance sector
– Drive improvements in the quality, efficiency, access to and exchange of data and information
Parent company engagement
By matching company data with environmental regulatory data, CLEAR Info has created a powerful tool which could enable an environmental regulator to work in a smarter, more consistent way with its customers.
By aggregating data consistently, and mapping this information against company hierarchy, we’ve developed a system which allows us to generate bespoke reports– enabling us to engage with companies at a parent company rather than site level. Looking at a company from this perspective, we can identify systemic rather than site issues, and highlight corporate risks and opportunities to manage environmental performance better.
By bringing environmental performance into the boardroom, we aim to encourage investment in those areas where environmental improvements are needed most.
The first iteration of parent company reports has been piloted with three listed companies representing the food and drink, chemical pharmaceutical and waste industries. The feedback from the first round of engagement will be used to improve the accuracy and relevance of parent company reports and to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of engagement.
Informing investment decisions
In addition to maintaining good quality compliance data on parent company performance to support the Environment Agency to reduce corporate environmental impact, the CLEAR Info project aims to demonstrate the benefit of environmental data integration into investment strategies.
Project partners Trucost recently published a report for investors to help achieve better risk adjusted returns through managing their portfolio environmental risks. The analysis focused on operational risk appraisal data (OPRA), which is an Environment Agency published site level environmental score that covers 170,000 UK business sites.
Trucost undertook preliminary steps to demonstrate the value of incorporating environmental data into active and enhanced passive investment strategies through three data integration case studies. The first uses OPRA scores to inform environmental sector profiles that include information on operational emissions, environmental management and compliance. The second helps inform engagement by identifying companies and engagement themes through comparing companies’ OPRA scores against sector averages developed in sector profiles. The third demonstrates OPRA score’s suitability to inform an environmentally enhanced index, which is aimed at investors seeking to slightly outperform the market and promote environmental sustainability.
Improving corporate environmental performance
As an EU-funded project, a large degree of effort is focused on sharing the project learning with other European regulators, acting as a catalyst for them to use integrated data and novel interventions as a way of driving compliance with EU legislation.
Over the next few months, the CLEAR Info project team will continue to work with environmental regulatory representatives from Finland, the Netherlands, Holland, Denmark, Spain and Portugal to explore opportunities and obstacles to sharing data across regulatory boundaries, taking the first tentative steps towards developing a pan-European view of corporate environmental performance.
CLEAR Info will make an important step towards having data and information that reflects the sophistication of regulated business, enabling regulators to use it to influence the environmental performance of businesses operating within the UK, across Europe and ultimately, globally.
Suzanne Laidlaw is CLEAR Info project manager from the Environment Agency, England. For further information, please email CLEAR.Info@environment-agency.gov.uk.
Photo: Marija Gjurgjan via freeimages
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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