Examples of what a circular economy could mean for Scotland in practice have been on show this week at the second day of the Scottish Resources Conference, the leading national industry event in Scotland.
Organisations already being supported to adopt more circular practices themselves – or encourage networks and key sectors to do so –featured prominently, including Falkirk lighting leasing firm Juice, Forfar-based Ogilvy Spirits and The Scottish Leather Group.
Developments in sectors as varied as bio-economy and textiles were also outlined, including the presentation on opportunities within the oil & gas sector based on a new evidence report jointly published by Zero Waste Scotland and the Royal Society of Arts and Manufacturing.
The conference also represented an opportunity to discuss issues to feed into the Scottish Government’s consultation on the circular economy, Making Things Last, which closes at the end of this month.
Setting Scotland’s progress within a broader context, European official Kestutis Sadauskas will address day two of the Scottish Resources Conference, organised by the Chartered Institutions of Wastes Management (CIWM) and Zero Waste Scotland, discussing European ambitions for a circular economy.
Scottish Government Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “We are making progress in Scotland with regard to realising the exciting opportunities presented by the circular economy, and looking at how we make the best use of our precious resources and make things last – a principle that we can apply from everything from our clothing to industrial processes in key industries. . The business opportunities for Scotland are tremendously exciting and it’s great to see such a range of companies highlighted at this event.
“I look forward to hearing as broad a range of views from as many people as possible on how to maximise the benefits which a circular economy will have for Scotland, both economically and environmentally.”
Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, said: “I was delighted to welcome an EU representative to the Scottish Resources Conference, to hear his international perspective on the circular economy, and to be able to share our examples of circular economy business development which are happening here in Scotland. We aren’t only discussing the possibilities for change, we’re exploring these exciting new business opportunities, such as that with the oil and gas sector being outlined today by RSA. We are keen to examine how Zero Waste Scotland can help these businesses thrive, and others to adopt circular models that will ensure a sustainable future, both economically and in terms of our all-important stewardship of resources.”
The RSA and Zero Waste Scotland presented early findings from their North Sea Oil and Gas Rig Decommissioning & Re-use Opportunity Report, which finds that the potential for re-use in the sector, particularly around the decommissioning of rigs, is “significant.”
It finds that the potential benefits of adopting circular economy principles within the oil and gas sector in Scotland would be to:
– reduce the environmental impacts associated with recycling/disposal of materials;
– reduce the net cost of decommissioning; and
– develop new oil and gas industry sub-sectors which could offer additional job creation opportunities for supply chain companies in a lower oil price economy.
Sophie Thomas, Director of Circular Economy at the RSA, who addressed the conference today, said: “The RSA Great Recovery has been working closely with Zero Waste Scotland to identity opportunities in where a more circular approach could bring increased opportunity and value into sectors. Our report North Sea Oil and Gas Rig Decommissioning and Re-use Opportunity is the first of our publications. By working with key stakeholders in the circular network we have developed a series of recommendations that are based on practical auditing and cross sector business creation. There is untapped value and great opportunity for Scotland to develop a world-class circular industry around oil and gas rig decommissioning.”
Dan Epstein, The Great Recovery Team, said: “There are very few industries that lend themselves so readily to adoption of circular economy principles and practice. With a very large forward order book of oil and gas assets that will be decommissioned and removed from the North Sea over the next 20 years that have a potentially very significant reuse value, developing a comprehensive programme to land and reclaim all or part of those assets in the UK will create financial value, new skills and jobs and expertise in a globally important new sector.”
Colin McLaughlin, of lighting rental and leasing firm Jiuce, which is part of the Zero Waste Scotland circular economy business models programme, said this had transformed his business: “The support from Zero Waste Scotland has helped us develop marketable solutions which will accelerate the take up of LED lighting in commercial property. Throughout the process they have kept Juice focussed on the end objective, challenged where necessary and provided support when we required. It is fair to say that we would not have been able to launch a ‘Rent a Light’ service without them.”
Also working with Zero Waste Scotland is Scottish business Ogilvy Spirits embraces the principles of a circular economy by distilling award-winning vodka from potatoes not suitable for the supermarket. The family-run farm in Forfar takes low grade potatoes that would normally be used for cattle feed and turns them into a high value exportable product with a long shelf-life. Graeme Jarron, Co-Founder, Ogilvy Spirits, said: “I wanted to build a future for further generations, to create something from our farm’s produce, starting small, and then hopefully sharing it worldwide.”
Zero Waste Scotland is also working with the Scottish Leather Group on a project to remanufacture leather by-products. The Scottish Leather Group Limited has had support to develop a circular model which sees cutting waste from the manufacturing process (for interiors for the automotive industry) transformed into high-value add-on products for use in the industry.”
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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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