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Ecosystem services: if they are so important, why did no one notice them before?

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Claire Wansbury and Veronica Lawrie, from consultancy firm Atkins, write how ecosystem services – the things that the nature does for us for free, like pollination – are not disconnected from the economy.

Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from the natural environment. There is growing recognition by policymakers and businesses that natural capital, which provides these ecosystem services, is the ‘missing link’ in classical economics.

For many ecosystem services, the value that they provide and the costs that result from damage to natural capital from which they derive are not captured in economic analysis.

You may wonder why we did not notice ecosystem services before. In reality, while the term is new, the importance of these ecosystem services and the need to protect the natural capital that supports them has been recognised for far longer by forward-looking businesses and thought leaders.

For example, before the first world war, a Pembrokeshire brewery owner bought a farm. He did so to gain control of the land from which groundwater flowed into the well supplying his business, and thereby to guarantee the quality of that water.

Similar approaches are now being trialled by water companies such as South West Water in water quality auctions, in which farmers bid for funds from the company to support water quality improvement measures.

Thought leaders recognised the issues, although they used different terms. American ecologist Aldo Leopold called out for a ‘land ethic’, saying, “If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

In the 1960s, the scientist James Lovelock was discussing a potential scientific paper with colleague Dian Hitchcock, leading to the idea that life on Earth regulated the Earth’s environment, including the air itself – keeping it suitable for life. This theory of a self-regulating living Earth-wide ecosystem was termed Gaia, named after the ancient Greek personification of the Earth.

What has changed in the last few years? Suddenly, powerful voices in economics, the environment and business leaders have begun to point out that the economy is not something for which the natural environment must, sadly, be sacrificed, but is really the basis on which most economic development actually depends.

The international Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study was launched in 2007 and the UK Treasury’s natural capital committee is now at the forefront of bringing natural capital into national accounting. What Leopold called a ‘land ethic’ in the 1930s is now becoming recognised as good business, and critical to economic development.

Claire Wansbury is associate director of ecology at Atkins and Veronica Lawrie is a senior ecologist at Atkins. The opinions here are the authors’ own.

Photo: Forest Wander via Flickr

Further reading:

Garden cities: how ecosystem services valuation can enable visionary urban development

Why we can’t afford to lose ecosystem services

Shared Planet: does nature have an economic value?

Loss of $200bn pollinating services will be harmful, scientists warn

Consequences of ecosystem changes missing from economic forecasts

Environment

Environmentally Sustainable Furniture for Dummies

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eco-friendly sustainable furniture choices
Shutterstock / By Rawpixel.com | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/rawpixel

We probably don’t think a great deal about our furniture choices. I know that I tend to just buy whatever looks pretty, seems functional and fits my budget. That usually means a trip to a few showrooms and big warehouse stores, like Ikea.

But we have a responsibility to the planet. We can do better. There are three major ways that our furniture can help the environment:

  1. Purchase used and/or recycled furniture and extends the lifecycle of precious materials.
  2. Source furniture that is free of environmentally unsustainable products.
  3. Choose furniture that doesn’t require electricity – opting for manual transitioning.

By investing in environmentally sustainable, high-qualify furniture, you’ll be able to pass down items from generation to generation. This will save your heirs on the cost of furnishing their own home, and help to protect the environment from wasteful fad furniture that only lasts a season or two.

Natural and Recycled Furniture Materials

If you absolutely love the look of wood furniture, search for environmentally sustainable products. For example, locally sourced wood or bamboo can easily be replenished without requiring excessive international harvesting of precious woods that harm the environment.

Sustainable wood products are only sourced from companies and locations that have the ability to quickly replace harvested wood – providing a responsible resource for generations of manufacturers and consumers.

Recycled furniture can either be a gently used item from someone else’s home, or a new piece of furniture that’s been used from reclaimed sources. You’ve probably seen examples of this at your local park – cities are increasingly using recycled materials to create benches and picnic tables.

But recycled materials don’t have to feel rough or rustic. Items made from recycled wood are readily available for order online or in-store. And believe it or not, electronic waste can be reclaimed and crafted into beautiful pieces of modern furniture.

The only limitation on recycled furniture design is the imagination of the creator. If you want to do it yourself, check out this DIY recycled furniture pinterest board!

Avoid Harsh Chemicals that Harm the Environment

Did you know that many cushions are made of highly-flammable polyurethane? Furniture manufacturers help keep our butts out of the hot seat by treating the materials in cushions with fire-retardant toxins. Unfortunately this padding breaks down overtime and the dust is both toxic to humans and the environment.

There are multiple lines of eco-friendly furniture that avoid the use of flammable polyurethane – often substituting with organic cotton. Just understand that you’re going to be in for a bit of sticker shock – eco-friendly furniture, when purchased new from major brands, gets pricey.

If you can’t afford the pricetag, I recommend finding used furniture from the same product line. There are a ton of websites dedicated to helping eco-friendly consumers find used organic, responsibly sourced products – and that includes furniture.

You’ll also want to stay away from faux leather. Furniture made from pleather and other leather substitutes are heavily treated with chemicals. That’s never a win.

Hypo-allergenic stuffing, combine with traditional leather might be a decent compromise if you have to have the leather look to tie a room together. But be conscious of the fact that tanning is not an environmentally friendly process, so try to limit these materials in your design.

In conclusion, it’s up to you how crazy you want to go. I think that as long as you stay with used furniture, you’re on the right track – even if it isn’t environmentally perfect, it’s at least a sunk cost for the environment – the damage has been done and you’re extending its useful life. But I think the most important takeaway here is buy quality items that you can pass down to your next generation – if that means spending more on higher quality new items that are sustainably sourced, so be it.

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Environment

Livery Services: Mother Nature Needs You to Invest in an Eco-Friendly Fleet

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green fleets
Shutterstock Photos - By tostphoto | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/tostphoto

In the United Kingdom, fleet vehicles make up most of the traffic traveling our roadways. If there’s one area of the transportation sector environmentalists should be focusing on, it’s the way we move goods, services and people around the empire.

Businesses that operate a fleet of vehicles need to realize the environmental impact of their service, and the opportunities available to help them lower their operating costs, while saving mother nature.

A green fleet is much cheaper to operate – both because of lower petrol consumption and government grants and tax benefits.

Let’s take a closer look at the things your company is unnecessarily spending money on every year due to an old, dirty fleet of polluters.

Vehicle Taxes on Polluters vs. Environmentally Friendly Fleets

If you want to operate your commercial van on public roads, you’re going to have to pay a VED, or Vehicle Excise Duty. The total fee assessed for this is based on the age of your vehicle, not how much you drive it. This is important, because an idle fleet of polluters can be just as costly as a fleet of green vehicles that produce value for your company.

Vans that were built after 1 March 2001 were taxed either £132 every six months, or £240 annually. This rate is effective per the TC39 VED tax code. There are exceptions to this rate.

For example, if your van is classified as a Euro 4 van, and was manufactured between 1 March 2003 and 31 December 2006, TC36 VED tax code applies to you. The six-month rate is £77, or £140 annually.

For older vans, manufactured prior to 1 March 2001, your tax rate is based on the size of the engine. Vans with engines less than 1549cc are charged £82.50 every six months, or £150 annually. Old vans with larger engines must pay £134.75 every six months, or £245 annually.

Euro 4 vans are the cheapest to operate from a tax perspective. Why? Because they were fitted with specialized filters that help to reduce the amount of dangerous pollutants that make it into earth’s atmosphere. You enjoy the tax savings year-after-year by operating these vehicles.

It really is economically more affordable to operate a green fleet.

Petrol Costs – Another Reason to Think Green to Save Green

The cost of petrol is heavily impacted by our environment. When Britain is thrashed by stormy weather due to global warming, or oil production is impacted by environmental disasters, the cost of filling up skyrockets.

At the time of this writing, petrol is £1.16 per liter, and diesel is £1.18 per liter. There are forecasts from reliable agencies that see the price continuing to rise in the near future, passing price points not seen since 2014.

Regardless of the speculative nature of future fuel prices, the fact remains that vehicles that use less fuel save their operators money every time the wheels turn.

As an alternative, many companies are heavily investigating and testing all-electric and hybrid alternatives for a greener, more economical fleet. As an example, the Nissan Leaf is one of the most popular all-electric vehicles – and it’s a fantastic choice for transporting people or smaller cargo payloads to residential destinations.  The total cost to charge a Nissan Leaf, using current electrical vehicle charging technology, is just £3.64 to go from empty to full charge.

That’s a HUGE savings over filling a petrol tank. And with the prevalence of fast-charge locations, it’s possible to go from zero to empty in just 30 minutes.

In conclusion, there are many ways to save on fleet operation costs. And by investing in a more efficient fleet, you’ll be doing your part to save the environment. Both tax incentives and lower operating costs make green fleets a no-brainier for serious fleet operators throughout the United Kingdom.

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