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Future sustainability leaders: Alice Goodbrook

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What will business look like in the future and who are our future leaders?

This is the penultimate instalment in our series speaking with a group of young people who are making waves in sustainability. All 12 are scholars on Forum for the Future’s renowned master’s course in leadership for sustainable development.

Ten years on from reading an article about climate change that sparked her interest in sustainability, Alice Goodbrook is ready to help business evolve. Here, she tells us about some of the key lessons she has picked up over the past year.

Tell us about your experience on the Forum for the Future master’s course. What have your placements involved?

With four placements across four sectors and no two lecturers the same, my experience of the course can certainly be described as varied! While the weeks we spend at Forum’s offices give us the opportunity to learn new ideas and question our own assumptions by being able to debate with world renowned sustainability leaders, the placements root this in the real world – putting our ideas into action. They also give us the opportunity to develop key skills from different reporting techniques, holding video conferences with multiple countries, to other practicalities such as working on the move.

At Delhaize (think Belgium’s equivalent of Sainsbury’s), I was developing sustainable packaging guidelines to be used across their stores in eight different countries.

At the Welsh government, I was lucky enough to be placed with the team working on the future generations bill (previously the sustainable development bill) which aims to put sustainability at the heart of the Welsh government’s decision-making. My project was to develop the draft implementation plan for the bill.

At the Technology Strategy Board (a non-departmental government organisation aimed at stimulating the economy through helping get new technology to market), I created a database of all the test and demonstration facilities worldwide around energy systems. I also had the opportunity to build relationships between them and the TSB by conducting site visits.

Finally at Actis, a private equity firm purely investing in the developing markets, I am developing a model to assess the impact of their real estate developments in relation to their core environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from? 

When I was 14, my favourite chemistry teacher brought in an article he thought I would be interested in. It was from the Times. It showed the potential apocalyptic state the world would be if our climate continued to get warmer – my house was underwater. What followed was a discussion that has continued ever since. Why was no one doing anything about it? If we needed to decarbonise our energy system sooner rather than later, what was the delay? Why was the government not leading this action?

I strongly believe that my generation can be the ones to fix these problems, to stop talking and start doing and I want to help lead the way.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your course? 

Don’t expect to know everything, know enough and have the appetite to learn whenever the opportunity arises.

What’s most important business lesson you’ve learnt? 

Don’t expect everyone to understand sustainability – learn the language others use and if that fails find someone within the industry who can help translate!

What one idea you think could change the world for the better? 

The internet of things – both terrifying and miraculous in equal measures.

What do you see of the future in terms of sustainability, business and the environment? 

I see the future for sustainability as evolving to becoming the business as usual approach. Businesses will understand that talking about resource depletion and other sustainability issues is not just an environmental issue but a core part of their strategy. It is the only way to ensure that business is viable for the long-term.

Where will you be in 10 years’ time?

A decade has passed since I was handed the Times article that sparked my interest in energy and my fascination with its future remains. In 10 years’ time, I hope to be working within the sector, making strategic decisions which help the industry evolve to meet the many challenges the need for a carbon neutral future creates.

Further reading:

Future sustainability leaders: Adam Lewthwaite

Future sustainability leaders: Kate Beattie

Future sustainability leaders: Maia Tarling-Hunter

Future sustainability leaders: Ruth Shave

Future sustainability leaders: Angela Green

Future sustainability leaders: Andrew Adam

Future sustainability leaders: Zoe Draisey

Future sustainability leaders: Rebecca Trevalyan

Future sustainability leaders: Sam Gillick

Future sustainability leaders: Patrick Elf

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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