Connecting consumers to sustainability issues is a challenge across all sectors and one that the Green Squares initiative is aiming to solve when it comes to the retail industry and deforestation.
Across the world, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate and increasing in pace. In 2012, the rate of Amazonian deforestation increased by 88%, according to satellite analysis conducted by Brazilian authorities. The shocking figures highlight why decisive action needs to be taken and consumers effectively engaged with.
Green Squares – an environment-focused loyalty scheme – points out that an area of rainforest the size of 14 football pitches is destroyed every minute globally. If this pace continues, all of the world’s rainforests will have disappeared within 35 years.
As well as being diversity rich areas and regulating the world’s climate, rainforests provide a variety of food and many raw ingredients that play a vital role in medicine.
Despite deforestation, and in particular the protection of rainforests, being an issue many consumers are concerned about, many fail to connect their shopping habits and lifestyle to consequences being felt elsewhere in the world.
Green Squares aims to offer a simple and effective way of “balancing the environmental cost of the lifestyles that we lead”. It works by businesses sponsoring areas of threatened rainforest. This area is then given to customers, with each Green Square representing a real square foot of rainforest, for a 12-month period.
Neil Ward, chief executive of Green Squares, explains, “Companies will use the Green Square as part of a loyalty programme – you can think of it like a green Nectar point. It doesn’t cost the consumer anything. It is paid for by the corporate client to give to their consumer for several reasons; one is to differentiate from competition.”
By purchasing through Green Squares, consumers can play an active role in creating more sustainable business practices and boosting environmental considerations. The online platform allows users to see exactly where their Green Squares are and share their progress on social media channels.
Consumers can collect Green Squares when purchasing from a wide variety of companies, including household names such as John Lewis, Asda, Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Boots – allowing consumers choice whilst still providing an ethical shopping experience.
With ambitious plans to create a “product that is universally recognised” and grow the number of businesses involved, consumers are likely to see their choice grow rapidly.
“The reception has been phenomenal, but it is now a question of getting the message out there,” Ward says.
Prior to launching, a consumer survey conducted by an independent company found that 95% of people, from a variety of demographics, supported the idea once they understood how vital the rainforest is for life, such as the fact that around a quarter of drugs comes from a forest derivative and the environment holds around half the world’s species.
Ward adds, “This is a real challenge, people aren’t aware of the damage being done to rainforests, you hear a lot about fracking and other environmental issues but the rainforest and deforestation has dropped off the agenda.
“When you think that deforestation actually contributes more carbon to the atmosphere – around 17% of carbon – than the whole worldwide transport system and yet nobody is doing anything about that.”
Another area of concern the survey highlighted was that consumers often feel as though their contribution will not have an impact or that they are unsure of how to proceed. Green Squares aims to bridge this gap.
Directly competing businesses will not all be able to use the initiative, for instance only one of the large supermarkets will be part of the scheme. Instead, Green Squares will examine which businesses have embraced green practices and use the initiative as a tool to encourage a sustainable approach.
As well as offering businesses a way to demonstrate their ethical credentials, the other side of Green Squares focuses on what to do with the money raised. Some 80% of the money is ringfenced for projects. The firm has set up its own non-profit organisation with a charter, to ensure that the scheme doesn’t dictate to the local people.
The local people decide what the money should be used for, with 16% being allocated to natural capital whilst the rest goes to social and economical development capital. The funding is operated through accountants Kingston Smith in order to avoid mismanagement of funds, corruption and bribery.
Ward continued, “This is a product that can be used by any company anywhere in the world. It has the potential to be very significant, with significant amounts of money generated from this. What I didn’t want to happen was to find that in succession somebody starts to become imperialistic.”
He concludes, “Initially Green Squares can be used to boost a company’s profitability but ultimately I would like to get it to a situation where a company has to do it because if it doesn’t do it, it will see a sales drop. Coupled with this we want to save as much rainforest as possible. At the moment we’ve got 46,000 hectares in one project and another half a million lined up, with an additional five million lined up.
“I would like to save all of the rainforest but that is unrealistic to set as a goal, so the goal is to do as much as we can as quickly as we can.”
Photo: Green Squares
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.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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