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Cracking down on environmental offenders: the law and the environment

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The Sentencing Council, the body charged with setting out sentencing guidelines issued to all of the judiciary of England and Wales, recently held a consultation to develop definitive guidelines in the context of environmental offences. Nicky Stubbs looks at what this means for future perpetrators of environmental crime?

The consultation, which was launched in the Spring, had a number of aims that were taken into account by the council. It included defining the principle factors that make an environmental offence more or less serious, additional factors that should influence the sentence and, of course, the appropriate sentences to be handed down by the courts to deter, punish and rehabilitate offenders.

But does this necessarily mean that the judiciary had previously turned a blind eye to environmental offences?

A bill which came into effect late last year removed the limits on financial penalties that can be imposed by the Magistrates’ Court, but Magistrates previously had restricted powers in terms of monetary penalties; a maximum of £5,000 for most offences. Magistrates could however, impose financial penalties of up to £50,000 for environmental offences without sending a case to the Crown Court for sentence, where the sentencing powers of the court are significantly greater and  there is no upper limit on the fines which may be imposed. This went some way in reflecting the serious view that is taken, both by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the courts themselves.

The criminal justice system therefore takes the view, as one could infer from this, that the overall impact of environmental offences, juxtaposed to public order offences, for example, is much more serious in the context of public interest, and this is reflected in the severity of the penalties.

David Travers QC, a leading barrister in environmental law and visiting professor at the Business Accountability and Responsibility Centre at the University of South Wales, spoke to Blue & Green Tomorrow about the current judicial viewpoint of environmental crime.

“It used to be said that committing an environmental offence is not like going up to someone in the street and punching him in the face because there is no identifiable victim. That was used to justify the assertion that environmental offending was somehow not properly a matter for the criminal courts. That view is fading as the importance of the environmental as something which benefits us all, and which the state has a duty to protect is increasingly recognised. At the heart of environmental regulation is the notion of sustainable development; enabling the present generation to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. “

He said that in order for criminal prosecution to proceed, there does not necessarily have to be an apparent impact on the environment.

“This is about protection rather than punishment, so for some offences there does not actually have to be an adverse outcome – the court has to consider how serious the risk was.”

There are current guidelines which set out the factors to be taken into consideration when sentencers are determining sentence; a document published in 2009 by the Magistrates’ Association, Costing the Earth: guidance for sentencers, sets out the basic principles of offences and the result of the consultation will no doubt build on these principles in order to give a more consistent and transparent approach to sentencing.

Travers added, “Consistency in sentencing is exceptionally difficult to achieve, not least because the range of offences, the differing factual circumstances and the differing defendants. The aim of the guidelines is to help achieve a balanced and consistent approach to the very challenging problem of sentencing environmental offending.”

The sad fact is that environmental offences are still being committed, but it is to the credit of the justice system and the sentencing council that these are being tackled by our justice system head on. We no longer live a world where economic benefit takes precedence over the basic principles of justice that democracy is founded upon, because we are no longer ignorant to the challenges that pose a threat to our planet.

In the previous guidelines, Lord Justice Sedley wrote, “[…] environmental crime, if established, strikes not only at a locality and its population but in some measure too at the planet and its future.”

You wouldn’t go up to someone in the street and punch them in the face – the consequences to follow would be severe – so why would you do the same to the planet? Either way, perpetrators of crime are bound to law, and justice will prevail.

Further reading:

Climate change is murder

The law of ecocide: investing in innovation to benefit people and the planet

‘It’s difficult choosing which company to draw about. So many of them do the same appalling behaviour’

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Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Environment

Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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