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Environmental Risk: Harmonising Assessment, Protecting Biodiversity



EFSA has published two Scientific Opinions on environmental risk assessment (ERA), with a third to follow shortly. Reinhilde Schoonjans explains the issues at the heart of this major project.

How is ERA relevant to EFSA’s work?

Environmental risk assessment is central to much of what we do. EFSA performs ERA as part of its evaluations of “regulated products” – pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and additives in food and animal feed – and of invasive alien species that are harmful to plant health. So as well as assessing the potential risks to human health from such products, we also look at the harm they may cause to the environment.

Why have you produced these opinions?

It has become apparent in recent years that because of the different requirements laid down in legislative frameworks, we have developed a variety of approaches to ERA. The aim of the current documents is to harmonise the way we approach ERA at EFSA. We identified three areas in particular where we could – and should – establish common approaches: the specification of biodiversity-related protection goals at the start of the assessment; coverage of endangered species; and the potential for ecological recovery following damage.

So the new documents propose a more consistent approach to performing ERA?

“The decline of biodiversity is a concern for us all that needs to be addressed urgently.”

Yes. When implemented by EFSA’s panels of scientific experts, these documents will help to harmonise assessment of potential “stressors” – such as feed additives, invasive species or pesticides – before they are allowed on to the market or spread into our environment. Many of the principles described are also applicable to stressors that are assessed outside EFSA, such as biocides.
The three documents help to clarify what a risk assessor needs to focus on. For society, these documents allow a transparent overview of how EFSA conducts its work and which criteria underlie the steps and choices made in ERA.

What are protection goals and why are they important?

Protection goals are included in legislative frameworks with one purpose: to protect humans, animals and the environment from harm. One example of a protection goal is biodiversity. This is a very broad term that people use all the time. But for risk assessors it is too broad. It has to be interpreted and defined before it can be used in ERA. We have to know exactly which aspects of biodiversity we want focus on.
To put it another way, a policy protection goal has to be translated into an operational or specific protection goal for the ERA of regulated products. One way to do this is to identify first the “ecosystem service” that can be affected by the stressor under assessment. Ecosystem services deliver support to human societies through ecological functions and processes – examples include food provision, water purification, pollination and cultural benefits. As a second step in the translation of broad protection goals, the risk assessor identifies the “service providing unit”, which is most frequently a population of a given key species. One example of a service-providing unit is the honeybee, which provides the service of pollination.

Is the document on specific protection goals a guidance document?

Yes, it is intended to give practical help to risk assessors and other relevant bodies. The aim is to describe in detail all the steps needed to turn policy protection goals into operational protection goals. It extends the way we currently work on pesticides to a wider range of potential stressors assessed by EFSA, such as additives in feed. The aim is to embed this guidance in future guidance documents of EFSA’s expert panels and to apply it in problem formulation at the start of ERA.

Why look particularly at endangered species?

The decline of biodiversity is a concern for us all that needs to be addressed urgently. This Scientific Opinion explores to what extent endangered species are covered in the current ERA schemes. It also reviews the characteristics that determine vulnerability and whether endangered species can be affected more than non-endangered species by potential stressors.

Where does the concept of recovery fit in?

When regulated products are used, it is sometimes inevitable that there will be effects at different ecological levels – individual, population, community. This is because risk managers make trade-off decisions – for example, to ensure food security. These trade-off decisions, however, should be supported by explicit information on how the affected ecological entities recover – where and over what time span. Also, invasive alien species may impact upon the ecosystems they invade; in these cases it is essential to have knowledge of the rate and degree to which affected ecosystems recover in order to take appropriate measures against the invaders. This Scientific Opinion describes what information is needed to estimate when the affected ecological entity is likely to return to its normal function and the ecosystem services it provides be restored.

What happens next?

The three documents will improve our understanding of the complexity of the European environment potentially impacted by stressors that fall under the remit of EFSA. The documents will enable us to better address the direct and indirect effects that stressors can have on entities providing ecosystem services and on biodiversity. Risk assessors and risk managers will now discuss how to make best use of these common frameworks.


Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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