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Why we can’t afford to lose ecosystem services



Ecosystem services are crucial to our survival; we literally can’t afford to lose them. Increasing investment in and protection of these hugely important environmental assets can only be beneficial for future generations.

Ecosystem services provide us with the essentials of life. They’re what increase our happiness, health and prosperity. But their importance has become masked by the large corporations that put their branding on these services, transforming them into products.

Honey is one example; clean water another. Wheat, fuel, fibres – all necessities that have been taken from our natural surroundings and become contained, packaged and shipped around the world for us to consume.

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services, as defined by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), are “services provided by the natural environment that benefit people”. Fibre and fuel provision, food supplied by pollinators, and cultural and recreation services are the most commonly appreciated.

Other not-so well-known ecosystem services include the purification of air and water, flood protection, regulation of the climate, soil formation and nutrient cycling – all essential operations that fundamentally support life.

How do ecosystem services contribute to economic growth?

Currently, many ecosystem services are not traded in markets, and therefore remain unpriced. It is this unknown value that in recent years has boosted research into how the roles of natural environmental processes contribute to our economic growth.

A particular area that has attracted a lot of research is the service provided by pollinators. A report by Klein et al in 2007 estimated that 75% of the world’s most important crops and 35% of all globally produced food are reliant upon animal pollination.

Bees are the dominant species providing crop pollination services, but bats, birds, moths and other insects also contribute. A study by Constanza et al in 2007 estimated that pollinators were worth approximately $14 per hectare every year on a global scale. The researchers also found that 17 ecosystems held current economic value, totalling at an estimated $16-54 trillion per year.

With global gross national product sitting at approximately $18 trillion a year when the study was conducted in 2007, it provides real evidence that ecosystems truly are worth conserving and investing in.

Investing in ecological services

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are one of the principle ways to establish a market for ecosystem services. PES can be defined as a payment to land managers to undertake actions that increase the quantity and quality of desired ecosystem services that will benefit both specific and general users.

PES work by addressing market failures through incentives. By offering land managers and others who affect the delivery of ecosystem services with direct payments, this allows better utilisation of the ecological goods. Most of these PES schemes are government financed; however, there have been an increasing number of PES schemes that have been financed by private companies and individuals.

New York City is acknowledged for providing one of the earliest and clearest examples of an ecosystem service in action. By paying $1.5 billion for water services to the Catskills and Delaware catchments, NYC saved between $8-10 billion that a water filtration plant would have cost.

By these means, the City secured a reliable water supply of about five billion litres of water daily for over 9 million consumers in the City and several suburban counties”, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) wrote in its Green Breakthroughs book.

This supply is delivered by means of a complex network of reservoirs, aqueducts, tunnels and pipes. The system depends on a 5,200 square kilometre catchment that spans eight counties in New York State, some 73% of which is under forest.”

If we look closer to home, there are a great number of PES examples thriving in the UK. SCaMP, or Sustainable Catchment Management Programme, for example, aims to develop an integrated approach to catchment management in the north-west of England.

We own 56,385 hectares of land in the north west, which we hold to protect the quality of water entering the reservoirs”, the company says.

Much of this land is home to nationally significant habitats for animals and plants, with around 30% designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).”

The project – a partnership between the United Utilities and the RSPB – represents a good example of how private, public and non-governmental organisations can manage the land to gain benefits from ecosystem services including improved water quality.

Why invest in PES?

Here are just a few quick pointers on why supporting and investing in PES methods is beneficial:

– Creating a link between beneficiaries and providers can strengthen the integration between the natural environment, society and economy

– PES links can generate opportunities in engaging a broad spectrum of stakeholders which could deliver improved outcomes for the natural environment and its many beneficiaries at a local, catchment, national, biodiversity and potentially international level

– It allows opportunities for new financing streams and private PES schemes to emerge

– Establishing these market opportunities provides conservation for these ecosystem services

– Allowing those who deliver ecosystem services to do so in a cost-effective way can benefit the entire population

– The more ecosystem services become included into the formal economy the more mainstream the provision becomes. This will allow a great expansion of opportunities in jobs, innovation and investment

In summary, investing in ecological services brings together biodiversity and the environment to generate assets that enhance economic performance, improve quality of life, and offer new opportunities for employment.

Enhancing the condition of these environmental assets will increase the stream of benefits that we can receive now and for the many future years to come.

To support payments for ecosystem services, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has put together a well-rounded summary of paying farmers for environmental services, in a report called The State of Food and Agriculture 2007.

“Farmers constitute the largest group of natural resource managers on Earth“, the FAO said.

They both depend on and generate a wide array of ecosystem services. Their actions can both enhance and degrade ecosystems. Thus, Understanding what drives their decisions is critical in designing new strategies that enhance ecosystem services and contribute to sustainable growth.”

Further reading:

Bee protection ‘essential’ after scientists link decline in numbers with insecticides

Government urged to make 2013 ‘the year of the bee’

MPs blame bee decline on common insecticide

UN: invest responsibly in agriculture to beat global poverty

Agricultural responsible investment principles set for consultation


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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