Tom Smith (pictured), Director of Strategy & Planning, Sedex writes: Climate change, biodiversity, human rights and development issues are higher up the global agenda this year than ever before.
The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will shape the global remit for social, economic and environmental development for the next 15 years, while COP21 aims to achieve a new international global climate agreement to tackle the growing environmental crisis. Both of these global sustainability initiatives are set to provide an important framework and vision for the future and will have a huge effect on how our world will look in the years to come. But solutions will come in many forms and need to be driven by businesses, governments, society and individuals. We all have a role to play in fighting climate change and it can only be done through collaboration.
From changing routes of supply, to resource scarcity and extreme weather events, climate change has huge implications for global supply chains. There are many good examples of how individual companies are already committing to leadership on climate – from reducing carbon emissions, to working on energy efficiencies on their sites, to using renewable energy and embedding supplier performance in businesses throughout their supply chains.
As well as individual efforts, a growing number of companies and investors are recognising the power of collaboration to drive transparency down the supply chain and to tackle sustainability issues at scale. Various collaborative initiatives, such as Sedex (the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange), AIM-PROGRESS, and the Bangladesh Accord, have successfully helped to boost the availability of supply chain data by enabling businesses to share information with each other.
For example, AIM-PROGRESS is a forum of leading fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers assembled to enable and promote responsible sourcing practices and sustainable supply chains. By collaborating on pre-competitive basis, member companies can maximise their impact, sending a strong message on the benefits of many players working together and providing additional leverage that smaller purchasing companies might not possess on their own.
The Bangladesh Accord, representing over 190 brands, over 1600 factories and more than two million workers, is an independent, legally binding agreement between global brands, retailers and trade unions designed to build a safe and healthy Bangladeshi ready-made garment (RMG) industry. Created in the immediate aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the agreement aims to enable a working environment in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures. Such collaboration initiatives help to tackle supply chain issues at scale.
However, another issue to look at when trying to improve supply chain standards is the nature of the supply chain information which should be captured and how it should be communicated. There is a wide range of existing codes, certifications and frameworks. Although this increase can be viewed as positive since it gives businesses the flexibility to choose the right method to meet their needs but there is a limit to the number which is useful as additional codes might end up replicating others. This puts an extra burden on suppliers as they might struggle to prove they conform to too many different standards.
Sedex – a not-for-profit global membership organisation – was created with a dual mission to help drive improvements in working conditions and reduce duplication of ethical data in global supply chains. Since launch in 2004, Sedex has grown to become the world’s largest collaborative platform for managing and sharing supply chain sustainability data on health & safety, labour standards, the environment and business ethics. Sedex provides its members – currently 38,000 organisations in 150 countries – with a range of multi-tier supply chain mapping solutions to help them identify, measure and manage environmental and ethical risks in their supply chains. By connecting buyers and suppliers, Sedex not only increases transparency down multi-tier supply chains but also reduces the burden on suppliers, who only have to enter their data once to share it with multiple customers.
Sedex aims to help members to address increasing numbers of queries relating to environmental factors and the impact of climate change on their supply chains. We have recently partnered with CDP, the leader in carbon emission reporting, to help member companies address climate change risks and reduce their environmental footprint. Many Sedex members are already reporting on GHG emissions and energy usage using CDP. This new partnership will help to decrease duplication – as members will only need to report the environmental data once. Additionally, using this data collaboratively enables more robust risk management and builds more resilient supply chains by ensuring transparency in tracking emissions and identifying potential risks associated with climate change.
Initiatives like these are vital in helping catalyse business-to-business partnerships to scale up sustainability efforts, but they should be complimented by business-to-government collaboration to put best practices and suitable regulations in place.
While global climate negotiations have been ongoing for more than twenty years, we are now at a crucial point in history. From rising sea levels, extinction of species, water scarcity and deforestation to extreme weather conditions threatening food security, the world is already feeling the effects of irreversible climate change. The risks posed by climate change may be greater than ever anticipated, but so is our capacity to tackle them. This is the time when business, government and world leaders should collaborate to take bold action, adopt forward-looking strategies and call for ambitious policies that will allow the scaling up of sustainable solutions for the years to come.
Figure 1: Sedex provides an efficient and cost effective way for supplier to share ethical information with multiple customers, helping cut down unnecessary paperwork and saving them time and money, while improving buyers’ supply chain visibility and data.
About the author
Tom Smith is Director of Strategy & Planning at Sedex. Since joining Sedex in 2007, he helped the organisation grow from a staff of four to become the world’s largest collaborative platform for managing and sharing ethical supply chain data. Having worked in various roles at Sedex, including business development, marketing and membership support, he is now leading the organisation’s future strategy planning and is responsible for ensuring Sedex achieves its strategic objectives. His role is to engage all the team, members, external business and industry leaders to influence strategies and ensure Sedex remains a leader in the global supply chain sustainability and responsible sourcing community.
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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