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Sustainability: how far have we come?

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Since 2011 what changes have taken place in the realm of sustainability and politics? The ‘Greenest Government’ supposedly stepped into Downing Street, and as a young professional in the industry, it was looking very positive, writes Hayley Williams.

The overarching emissions reduction target has been to achieve an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 (from 1990 levels), so the question is, are we any closer four years down the line? In 2014 the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) reported a 25% reduction on 1990 levels, which showed promise. This report to Parliament also confirmed that the first carbon budget was met, mainly due to the recession and the implementation of policies. However, the CCC suggested that to continue in this vein, policies needed to be strengthened to ensure significant carbon reductions.

As a young professional developing in the industry there have been some policy and regulation changes, which may question the Government’s commitment to the legally binding targets.

The Green Deal scheme was launched at the beginning of 2013 with the aim to improve the energy efficiency of the existing building stock; however there was very little take up of the scheme. With particularly high interest rates it was seen as a costly way to improve a building’s energy performance. After 18 months the scheme was revived, making it much more appealing. This has now resulted in oversubscription, and it is closed for applications. To be successful and sustainable, a scheme needs credibility and stability, which does not appear the case for the current scheme.

Building regulations have been revised, specifically Part L in relation to conservation of fuel and power. The most recent edition (2013) of the Approved Document came into effect in April 2014. These revised regulations require domestic buildings to be 6%, and non-domestic 9%, more efficient than the previous regulations. This could be argued as not being enough to drive the sustainability agenda forward and to meet the legally binding targets.

Hand in hand with this, the Government’s Housing Standards Review in 2013-2014 resulted in the “winding down” of the Code for Sustainable Homes scheme. This scheme provided a straightforward route to developing zero carbon homes. The scheme used a star system (1 to 6) to rate new homes, with level 6 being zero carbon.

Zero carbon homes are still due to be delivered in 2016. One of the main components of this being Allowable Solutions. This allows developments that cannot cost effectively off set their carbon emissions on site, to invest in local projects. It is imperative that this mechanism is monitored effectively, and the cost of carbon is set to a level to encourage the best design of homes on site. Otherwise the scheme will not function as intended.

Ideally homes developed should be zero carbon without Allowable Solutions. Building homes that cannot be self-sufficient could be more problematic in the future, and further retrofitting may be required to reduce carbon emissions to nil. Potentially leaving more challenges for the next generation.

The Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) scheme has also proven controversial. Changes made by the Government late in 2011 resulted in uproar from the industry and customers. The Government was taken to court, and subsequently lost. They appealed the decision, but the Supreme Court rejected the appeal. The reduction in the FIT was not opposed to; it was the way the Government went about enforcing the changes. This understandably seemed to reduce the public’s trust in the Government. It also questioned the lack of support from the Government for renewable technology installations, and consequently carbon emissions and the environment.

Over the last 4 years, there have been positive steps towards implementing policy that should reduce the countries carbon emissions. However, the negativity puts doubt in the minds of the general public. In 2011 George Osborne stated that green policies are a “burden” and “ridiculous cost to British Businesses”. These type of comments are negative and do not assist in pushing the sustainability agenda forward. It also consolidates the non-believing population’s opinions of climate change and sustainability.

Most recently UK party leaders have pledged to tackle climate change after the next election. They have agreed to work towards a legally-binding global climate deal to agree new UK emissions-cutting goals. But what does this actually mean? Surely the current Government should have had the issue of climate change high on the agenda already. As a young professional, I do question whether this is a hollow pledge.

Hayley is a sustainability professional with a Masters in Climate Change and Sustainable Development. Having worked in the industry since 2010 she has a passion for, and understanding of, the current issues around sustainability.

Photo: shining.darkness via Flickr

Further reading:

Cameron, Clegg and Miliband sign joint climate change agreement

General election 2015: a stark choice for voters in five weeks

Sustainability could hold the key to 2015 general election result

‘Greenest government ever’ has failed the environment, NGOs say

Budget 2015: Not the greenest government ever

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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Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

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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