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Ecoisland: a greenprint for a sustainable future

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Alex Blackburne caught up with David Green, founder of the Ecoisland Partnership, a project set up with the aim of transforming the Isle of Wight into the first sustainable region in Britain. He begins by outlining where the idea came from.

The original idea of an eco-island was mine. I came up with the idea of trying to make the Isle of Wight, where we’re based, the first sustainable region in Britain about seven years ago. I committed to launching the scheme, I got the council involved and they got excited about it. They did a big launch followed by a big green picnic – a public event which attracted 7,000 people, the most successful first time event in council history. But unfortunately, the CEO, who was the fire-in-the-belly guy pushing it forward, left and went off to London. So the baby kind of went out with the bath water.

So I then started meeting with a group in the pub every two months. In the end, there were 300 of us meeting in the pub because we didn’t want to let the idea go. We formed a business advisory group out of that, and subsequently, I project managed a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) project, halving the carbon footprint and cost of 70 social houses, after which, we then set up the community interest company. That launched last year around the middle of April and then we blasted ahead, attracting over 70 partners including some big global names like IBM and Toshiba, and we had a whole series of other players including the likes of Southern Water and SSE.

You either sit like Lemmings on the train that’s going over the cliff, or somewhere somebody at the back says, “Hang on a minute, there has to be a better way than this”

All of this was basically designed to start creating a sustainability model – a greenprint, if you like, which is a blueprint for a greener future: the idea of getting a mix of generating capacity, including tidal, wind, energy-from-waste, geothermal, solar PV and so on.

How did the idea for an Ecoislands Global Summit come about?

On the back of our work on the Isle of Wight, we started to attract a lot of interest from areas like Cornwall and the Midlands. We’ve also had a number of other islands taking an interest in what we’re doing around the UK. And more subsequently, some international islands have taken an interest in this greenprint. So we decided to get everybody together for this Ecoislands Global Summit.

There will be a chance for them to come to a workshop on the first day and start to see what it is that we’re doing, and sharing the knowledge and understanding that we’ve got, introducing them to our partners and the greenprint as an idea, and the hopefully signing them up to a load of carbon reduction commitments to join an Ecoislands Accord, which will then start to demonstrate to continents and other countries around the world just what sustainable communities can be.

Our theory is that it’s the smallest places that can often make the greatest change. Islands are very easy to define and manage, and also to measure. We’re putting in an intelligent operations centre from IBM which will enable us to measure and quantify everything, and hopefully we’ll be able to report over a period of three to four years the impact that we’ve able to have on the planet in terms of greening up energy supplies and making areas and islands more sustainable. Obviously it doesn’t have to be an island; it could be a region or a country. In a sense, the planet is an island in the solar system. It’s a model that is basically designed to try and get everybody thinking about living within their own footprint.

David Green was named sustainability executive of the year at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2012. He's seen here collecting his trophy from former Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas. Photo: Ecoisland.

And so the Isle of Wight will be acting as the example of what a sustainable region will look like?

Yes, the Isle of Wight becomes the showcase, the living laboratory, the proof of concept, the first mover, Ecoislands One. Basically, so we can get the bugs out of the system, the research and development department makes sure that all the software and hardware are running and that the opportunity is there to roll it out on a much wider scale.

Part of the trouble with all of this is that people are talking about smart grid everywhere, but nobody really knows what one looks like. To fully integrate a smart grid over an island like ours is quite a challenge, even for the technical experts, so we actually want to do one here, show what the potential of it is, demonstrate the reality of it and then hopefully over a period of years, spread that knowledge and understanding out to other regions around the globe. It’s really just a matter of trying to get people on board.

Part of the message we’re carrying with this Summit is that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. You only need a small group within a community or an individual who’s fired up with the idea to start making change, and obviously if we can give them the toolkit, then they can start applying that in their region and hopefully get some of the results that we’re getting here too.

What kind of areas have you attracted to this idea, and so will be attending the Summit in October?

The local ones are easier to grasp and understand. A lot of the Highlands and islands, the Isle of Man and some of the Channel Islands have shown an interest. Obviously some of the islands in Scotland are already on the curve – Egg, Mull, Shetland, Orkney. We’re not claiming to be the only one with bright ideas, we’re trying to bring together that consensus view, that knowledge and understanding, and share that across between the communities around the world. We’re making a very determined effort to get the best of policy and the best of technologies, and then through the interrelatedness of these islands, demonstrate major change.

Our aim is to get completely energy self-sufficient by 2020 and that’s achievable as far as we can see. We use about 600 gigawatt hours of electricity in total a year, with a peak of about 167 megawatts (MW), down to about 30MW on a Sunday morning. We’re hoping that with a degree of balancing and also a degree of storage, renewable generation capacity of around 120MW might well provide a kind of blanket coverage and sufficient with good demand-side management of reductions to get us into our own energy footprint and hopefully make us a net energy exporter to the big island to the north.

Whilst it’s admirable to see islands and smaller regions clubbing together to tackle climate change, there is an argument that says all this good work is being undone by the likes of China, the US and a number of rapidly developing countries, all of whom are polluters on a completely different scale. What can the Ecoislands Global Summit do about this?

The exciting thing about this is giants like China and the US are difficult nuts to crack. But in some ways, what you need is inspiration from somewhere. You either sit like Lemmings on the train that’s going over the cliff, or somewhere somebody at the back says, “Hang on a minute, there has to be a better way than this”.

I think it’s part of a change, a paradigm shift and I think it’s starting to affect the corporates that we’re working with

What we’re hoping is that with a concerted effort and with great will, we’ll be able to get away from what I’ve endearingly called ‘consensus insipidus’, which is how I’d describe quite a lot of these other international conferences, because what they tend to do is go at the rate of the slowest, a bit like a group of hill walkers. That means that everybody has to agree on everything before anything ever gets signed. What we’re trying to do is the opposite; go out there as the leaders of sustainable communities globally and asking other people to join us, so setting the standards and the benchmarks much, much higher and aiming towards that self-sufficiency or sustainability piece.

I think by doing that, and by showing these big countries that it’s achievable, we’ll actually send a very strong message out, which is if we can do it, why can’t you? If we’re committed to it, why aren’t you? Really, the mentality is all about seeing us all on an island and getting us all to think about managing our lives in terms of a lighter footprint on the land, living within our natural resources and balancing nature.

It was recently announced that there would be an Ecoislands Fund launched. What’s this for and why is it needed?

Part of the challenge for us is that without money, a lot of these things don’t get done. Even if the spirit is willing and all the people are aligned, quite a lot of this change does actually require quite large amounts of capital funding. A lot of these communities, particularly small communities, find it very, very difficult to raise funds. The governments doesn’t seem to be out there with real money to back this up, and even the subsidies don’t generate enough private investment to bring in the kind of investment that’s necessary.

We set about securing a different financial model that will place, by Christmas of this year, a substantial amount of money in an investment fund. We could, therefore, develop other regions away from the Isle of Wight. We obviously need to start here, we’re focusing here first, because we need to be a demonstrator and get on the sustainability path in a major way somewhere, but I think it does matter that there may then be funding for other regions as well.

We’ve tried to build the fund on a basis of anticipating, taking not only the greenprint, but also maybe some of our partners and some of our investment opportunities across to these other islands, and what we’re looking for is decarbonising as much as we possibly can with the funding we’ve got. Every island will have its own kind of mix, a different propensity to different technologies – there will always be a mix – but our hope is that we’ll be able to use some of this global investment fund towards helping some of those other regions as well.

Finally, what are your hopes for the Ecoislands Global Summit?

I want to feel that this message, particularly about other parts of the world and how this can be picked up and carried to those, is going to start to be magnified.  I’m sure the Summit will be a huge success and I’m sure the message that comes out of it on a media level will be very powerful. It’s really about getting things done, and not sitting waiting for the cavalry to come over the hill, but basically floating our own boats and taking our destinies into our own hands and taking the story up the road on the back of the will of the people which I think needs inspiring.

I think it’s part of a change, a paradigm shift and I think it’s starting to affect the corporates that we’re working with. Everybody’s willing us on and I’m very hopeful that we’ll deliver the goods.

Further reading:

World communities to flock to Isle of Wight for Ecoislands Global Summit

The Island President: one man’s fight for survival against the odds

Swimming against the tide: the Pacific nations fighting a losing battle with climate change

Rising sea levels force Pacific Islanders to relocate

Developing world at ‘extreme risk’ of climate change

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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