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Economy

Democratising Sustainability Part 1

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The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), known as the Brundtland Commission gave us the much quoted definition of what sustainable development should embrace: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Steve Burt, CEO EQi Group, writes in a recent LinkedIn post.

1) Sustainability

Little did Gro Harlem Brundtland (who chaired the commission) realise that her work would be used to define many varying and self-serving agendas for governments, businesses and green enthusiasts. Since releasing the commission’s findings in the report named Our Common Future, more commonly known as the Brundtland Report, in October 1987, the word sustainability, in definition and term, has been abused, maligned and manipulated to suit money making and political agendas.

The clever and skilful use of the word sustainability by marketers has only served to pervert its understanding and importance and tarnish the public’s understanding of what ultimately will affect them and could be the most significant challenge facing mankind. The broad nature of the original definition has provided an open ended translation for all and sundry to interpret, use and abuse to fit any description of any service or product that may in some way be able to claim lower consumption in its production over a previous version.

The word sustainability, its meaning and value, needs to be repositioned, revalued and strictly protected against the marketer’s sleight of hand, the politician’s self-serving agendas and business’ appetite to stretch its meaning. The challenge in repositioning the value and importance of sustainability is being able to gain an accurate understanding of our current consumption and its effect in both economic and ecological terms. A clear and defined method of evaluating, measuring, tracking and reporting is now required.

To date, methods and process of understanding and evaluating sustainability have been hijacked by Non-Governmental Organisations and Not for Profits. Their standards and methods are focused to meet their interpretation and/or agendas of building membership rather than investor grade metrics. Although their purpose may sound or be founded on well-meaning, their methods encourage distortion of the real position, praise of poor performance and awards meeting their criteria rather than real sustainable progress.

The most pervasive and damaging effect on the term sustainability has been created by the fundamental way organisations, marketers, consultancies, and consumers use the word in communications. Systems, products and services are ubiquitously labelled ‘sustainable’; however, sustainability is an outcome state, derived from and directly related to an input, and it is achieved by aligning consumption and damage effects to within our planet’s capacity to replace or absorb. Sustainability is a state of being in balance with planet Earth.

How can sustainability be purchased when sustainability is a state that can only be achieved as a result of matching consumption, emissions and impacts levels to the biosphere’s ecological limits? If the term sustainability does mean a state of balance rather than a system, product or service then should not every human be involved in understanding their part in what is required to achieving a global sustainable living state?

Since the turn of the century a plethora of experts, thought leaders, companies, products, services and systems have all claimed to have the clear vision or magic solution with retailers implementing world changing initiatives. A multitude of standards, compliance systems and reporting mechanisms have been developed, promoted and championed, yet the effect since the turn of the century has been that carbon intensity has increased.

In 2008 the UK Guardian published an article named 50 People Who Could Save the Planet which further underlines the idiosyncratic approach the world has pursued, ‘Trust us, we are experts.’ Such thinking is exclusive, damaging and wrong. The facts show that the current bandwagon and supporting cast of experts, standards, systems and reporting initiatives have failed. A new approach is required if we are going get the world to change its current unsustainable living model into one that balances with the biosphere.

This is the first of 7 posts that will seek to challenge the existing knowledge paradigm by democratising sustainability through sharing untarnished and factual information to bring clarity to this much mis-addressed subject. The focus is about educating people on how they can play their part in achieving a biosphere consumption balance and hence a sustainable society.

The following posts will show there is a different way to help society become more sustainable using an encompassing inclusive approach, rather than the current endless reporting, grand political and private self-serving initiatives.

1) Sustainability

2) The Background

3) The Human Issue

4) The Business Issue

5) The Compliance Effect

6) Transparency and Trust

7) The Consumption Challenge

I believe that sustainability should be democratised to allow all humans to make personal choices regarding the way they wish to contribute to reducing human impact. The marketing spin needs to be banished and untarnished information needs to be made readily available throughout our society.

EQi is a data and technology company that connects business to sustainability by providing resource efficiency management solutions. EQi has announced successful certification as a founding UK B Corporation.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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