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“Is policy-first the right approach for water?” asks Olam’s Chris Brown



This article first appeared on Thomson Reuters Foundation website and is reproduced with permission. The author is Chris Brown, GM for Environmental Sustainability at Olam, who delivered a keynote speech at UC Davis’ Water Policy for Food Security: A Global Conference in October.

Water permeates every part of life, affects every region of the world, and I can’t think of a single industry that doesn’t rely on water at least in part for its continuing operations. It is telling that while water and sanitation have been announced as a Global Goal in their own right at the recent signing of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York, access to clean, safe water also underpins the vast majority of the other 16 goals to end poverty, foster peace and protect the planet by 2030.

Yet water is a finite resource. How do we balance competing demands, knowing full well that they will only increase as population expands, industry grows and the impacts of climate change become ever more significant?

Policy, it would seem, is the Holy Grail. We await it eagerly, spend days, months and even years discussing the minutiae and delving into the detail. But without being joined up across borders, businesses and water basins, it means very little. The last 20 years of deliberation on water policy have yielded very little real impact on the ground.

Why? Water cannot be ring-fenced. We are all guilty of viewing challenges through our own particular lens, assessing impacts and targets based on our own particular silo. But this simply does not work for water.

Water does not respect the boundaries of our administrative systems or the borders of national governments. There are between 250 and 275 transboundary river basins and at least as many transboundary aquifers globally, yet only six of these aquifers have international legal structures that encourage co-operation. Water cannot be siphoned off into its own department, but rather water planning must be a central plank to every policy decision by every department – be that on housing, environment, business or infrastructure. Perhaps even more importantly, these decisions must be consistently reviewed and maintained if they are to have any chance of success. Decisions on water planning can start with good intentions but become unstuck when they are gradually shunted to the bottom of the priority list as time goes on.

We have seen that even when coherent water policies are decided at the top, they often are not cascaded down consistently to the actors on the ground. If the myriad stakeholders in a water landscape aren’t brought in at the earliest possible stage to have a voice in assessing the practicalities and application of policy, it is unlikely to stick. Initiatives like the International Water Stewardship Programme (IWaSP) and WWF’s Water Stewardship Programme are vital in helping the private sector to collaborate with government departments, other businesses, NGOs and communities across boundaries and borders to protect shared freshwater resources.

Meanwhile, I have seen a growing tide of people turning to the private sector for solutions and, more importantly, for action.

Agriculture accounts for around 70% of global water use, yet very few governments prioritise agriculture over industries that generate greater currency revenues for their coffers. If water becomes scarce, it is often farmers, especially smallholders, who feel it first. There is therefore added impetus for agri-businesses (like Olam) to take action to ensure the long-term viability of our supply chains and food security in regions around the world. Not only must we consider our vulnerabilities today but also plan for future scenarios of increased water scarcity, and any measures that governments might take in response. To mitigate these risks, we need action now both to reduce our own water consumption and ensure that other players within our water landscapes are practising responsible water stewardship – and if we wait for policy-makers to make the first move, it may be too late.

The private sector can be catalysts for basin-level collaboration on water management, even when policy is lagging. For example, when setting up Olam Aviv’s coffee plantation and processing mill in Songea district, Tanzania, we needed access to water for our operations and workers without jeopardising the Ruvuma River ecosystem, or the needs of others. It was in our long-term interest to understand the needs of our neighbours if we wanted to be accepted into the community. Lengthy upstream and downstream water assessments and a daily rainfall-runoff model to measure flows informed workshops with village leaders, the Ministry of Water, development agencies and the operators of a local hydropower plant, who happen to be nuns from the local Benedictine St Agnes Chipole Mission.

As a result of all this work, the Upper Ruvuma Catchment Basin Steering Committee was formed to share knowledge and resources for a more coordinated catchment management strategy into the future, and we have since built a 1.5 million m3 dam to collect rainwater to reduce our dependence on the river during the dry season, planted 50,000 shade trees to reduce evapotranspiration from the coffee plants, and are constructing a wastewater treatment wet-mill. Here we’ve seen real, tangible action driven by business needs and cross-sector collaboration across the water basin. And what’s more, learnings from our experience in Tanzania can be shared with partners across our global operations to find local, scalable and durable solutions.

While policies are being deliberated on a global scale, action needs to start happening in a joined up way on the ground. Water is infinitely challenging to measure, monitor or mediate – its very nature means that collaboration is a perquisite to meaningful action on a landscape level. You need the private sector to take the initiative and catalyse action from the ground up as well.

Ideally policy and action will meet in the middle and ensure that sustainable and equitable water use, including access to fresh water and sanitation is not a luxury but a right for generations to come.


7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption



Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions |

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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