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Samuel Vionnet on Natural Capital



This month, Samuel Vionnet, who support organisations to integrate the value of nature into decision making and has worked with companies such as Ikea, L’Oréal, Nestlé, Nespresso, Pernod Ricard, STMicroelectronics and Unilever, will be speaking at the 2015 World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh. Today he writes for Blue & Green Tomorrow.

Natural Capital – The key to implementing sustainable development

“Following the recent UN summit in New York, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have regularly topped the news agenda and the topic of sustainability has been hard to miss. The SDGs are composed of a universal set of 17 goals and 169 targets, which member states will be expected to use to frame sustainability policies and agendas.

“Some have called the SDGs a list of priorities, but looking closer at the 169 targets it is crucial that leaders ask themselves what are the actual priorities and what role natural capital plays in achieving these targets?

“Of the targets outlined by the SDGs, 19 relate directly to natural capital, however if wider issues related to natural capital are considered, for example built or financial capital, this number rises to 36. These 36 targets contribute to more than 50% of the overall SDGs targets through more than 180 direct and positive links. By ‘direct’ I mean that a clear impact can be assessed. This could include instances such as UN member states investing in water-related ecosystems which subsequently will contribute to reaching the goal of water access for all.

“More surprisingly, 152 negative links can be identified, some of which can only be achieved at the expense of natural capital.  It is worth mentioning here that businesses cannot just pick and choose the targets that work best for their sustainability strategy and move on: systemic thinking is what is required here. To create a positive impact, and avoid unnecessary collateral damage, it is vital that business leaders understand the system dynamic and focus on the targets that will unlock the highest value, both for wider society and for their business.

“Thinking systematically, it becomes clear that some of the targets set out through the SGDs are more connected than others. Using the links identified earlier, it can be observed that sustainable agriculture (target 2.4) and water-related ecosystems (target 6.6) are the two most connected targets. Other targets requiring the sustainable management of forests, land and soil (15.2 and 15.3) are just corollaries.

“The single target able to be connected further to other targets recommends integrating ecosystem and biodiversity values into all management systems and decisions (15.9). It identifies the relevance and importance of the work of the Natural Capital Coalition, which is currently developing a Natural Capital Accounting Protocol for the private sector. This will form the basis of the business case for investing in sustainable development.

“So which targets are benefiting the most from the natural capital targets of the SDGs? These are include those targets relating to access to water (6.1), resilience and adaptation to climate change (13.1) and doubling the agricultural productivity and income of small scale food producers (2.3). For all of these targets there is a direct correlation with natural capital.

“If businesses and UN member states are serious about increasing access to water, they cannot just build water wells: instead they must invest in water-related ecosystems. If they are serious about improving resilience and adaptation to climate change, they must not solely invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, but invest as well in green infrastructure. If they are serious about helping smallholders to feed the world, then they must begin investing in soil quality and ecosystem-based solutions, such as agro-forestry.

“We know that if we lose natural capital, it is the entire wealth of society, including economic value, which we are losing. In order to develop our economy, we must protect natural capital.

“The engagement of the private sector is crucial. A recent study that reviewed CSR reports from 174 multi-national companies, all of whom were members of the WBCSD, found that less than 40% of companies identified biodiversity, an issue at the core of natural capital, as a material issue. This figure falls to less than 20% for topics such as land use, soil and forests.

Natural capital was only mentioned by nine companies out of the 174 reviewed. Although water has been identified as material by 75% of companies, this figure drops to 20% when we consider supply chain exposition to water related risks, which is the principal issue faced by many sectors.

“It is crucial that we start valuing natural capital – with it we could solve more than half the world’s problems.”

World Forum on Natural Capital

The second World Forum on Natural Capital will take place in Edinburgh on 23-24 November 2015. Bringing together business leaders, government representatives and environmental experts from around the globe, the event will examine the most up-to-date developments in this rapidly evolving field, with a focus on managing risk and driving innovation. More information about natural capital can be found here.


Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations



green housing techniques

Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?

The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.

New Construction Options

One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.

In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.

The Simple Retrofit

From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?

Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.

Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.

Big Innovations

Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.

In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.

Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.

It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.

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How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions



auto industry to clean air pollution

Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Public Health Crisis

It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.

Eco-Friendly Vehicles

It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.

Used Cars

Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.

Public Perception

With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.


The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.

With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.

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