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How Royal Bank of Scotland improved its carbon accounting system

Published July 25, 2014
How Royal Bank of Scotland improved its carbon accounting system

Royal Bank of Scotland is a FTSE 100 U.K. financial institution based in Edinburgh. The bank operates on sustainable business principles, aiming to positively contribute towards society. One of these principles encompasses robust reporting practices to ensure transparency and accuracy in calculating and reporting data.

Business need

RBS operates a carbon accounting software system that gathers information from a range of company locations and third party data providers. The data collection and reporting needs of the bank and its sustainability team have changed since the system originally was implemented. As a consequence, a number of inefficiencies had developed in the way data was entered, processed, manipulated and stored.

To bring the software in line with the RBS sustainability team's goals and agenda, RBS asked Carbon Clear to recommend a more efficient way of working with the system that would deliver the ability to report comprehensive figures at any time; improved transparency of data input and calculation for better auditability; and improved quality and detail of the primary, secondary and extrapolated data.

RBS wanted to be able to automate the entry of large data sets into the system, to bypass the manual elements of managing the data and to provide a robust audit trail for annual reporting cycles.

The RBS team also wanted to build calculations into the existing software that would deliver figures in the absence of primary data based on parameters such as floor area, number of employees and building type.

Solution

Carbon Clear carried out a thorough analysis of the incumbent RBS carbon accounting system. This consisted of an initial software review process to determine the scope and limitations of the system in meeting RBS's requirements for managing its carbon data.

From this analysis, Carbon Clear recommended that RBS rebuild its carbon management system to reflect the reporting needs of the business. To assess which activities the company wanted to undertake and the correct indicators needed to provide relevant data, Carbon Clear undertook a data mapping exercise to identify unnecessary information and ensure the system remained flexible.

As a result, Carbon Clear built the new system around a set of Key Performance Indicators and a bespoke structure that allows on-demand reporting and lessens the administrative and human inputs to the datasets. All calculations are carried out within the accounting system, removing uncertainty and increasing auditability. In addition to the new system, Carbon Clear also created a basis for reporting governance document that lists and identifies all the methodologies used in the design and build of the system. This document is critical for the transparency of the data and the ease of access for RBS's auditors.

Value added

The new system delivers transparent and accurate carbon data that can be used for internal reporting and that, crucially, will be used for all of the company's carbon reporting requirements.

Carbon Clear's review of RBS' carbon accounting software has resulted in four major changes in process and efficiency:

  1. Automating the input of all large data sets, saving time and avoiding human error.
  2. Building sophisticated calculations into the system which allows reporting with little or no data.
  3. All extrapolations and calculations are carried out within the system, removing uncertainty and increasing visibility.
  4. Data sourced from each site instead of at a country wide-level, which creates visibility for carbon reduction and energy saving opportunities at individual buildings.

As there are many voluntary and compliance reporting requirements, such as CDP and Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting, that companies undertake on an annual basis, having an up-to-date and flexible carbon accounting system that can generate data on demand is invaluable for sustainability departments. RBS now has a robust system that will help it to benchmark itself against its peers, set carbon targets and report with accuracy in the future. The new, enhanced system will help RBS further improve its emissions reporting and establish itself as a best practice leader.

RBS will now focus on expanding calculation of its carbon data through the new system to encompass Scope 3 emissions and to set accurate and challenging carbon reduction targets for the future.

Top image via RBS.com. This article first appeared at 2degrees.



When procurement obscures the forest for the trees

Published July 24, 2014
When procurement obscures the forest for the trees

The idea that creating more commercial demand for a tree species actually could help protect it seems counterintuitive, even disingenuous. But for purchasing managers and other procurement professionals, these complex realities are the norm.

In some cases, choosing not to include a particular tree species in a purchasing decision can diminish the value of that species, and the ecosystem it calls home, in the eyes of landowners. But if a tree species is perceived to offer economic benefits for landowners, then efforts to promote its growth and protect the ecosystem it relies on are easier to encourage.

The longleaf pine in the Southern United States is a prime example of how procurement policies can have unintended consequences — and of how active markets actually can help protect a tree species.

Historically, the longleaf ecosystem spread across as much as 90 million acres in nine states.

But longleaf declined throughout the 20th century because of changing land use, shifting forest management practices and fire suppression. By the 1990s, some buyers worried they would face pressure from environmental groups to stop sourcing longleaf. This worry put the species in danger of losing favor with landowners, who voiced concerns that the species could become economically unviable.

As recently as May, a U.S. subsidiary of an Australian forest products company in North Carolina faced questions from its head office about the environmental implications of sourcing longleaf.

Surprising partners to preserve the longleaf pine

“They were going to take the simple way out and just stop buying longleaf, but we managed to convince them otherwise,” said Robert Abernethy, president of The Longleaf Alliance. The alliance is a nonprofit conservation organization based in Andalusia, Ala., that began as a program in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University in 1995.

The Longleaf Alliance is part of a network of grassroots organizations and public agencies that have come together to promote the growth of longleaf through market expansion, education and support for better forest management.

Credit: USDA via Flickr

“The USDA has been working with local partners to restore the longleaf ecosystem for a long time. We recognize that markets are an essential factor in motivating landowners to plant longleaf,” said Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Longleaf Alliance worked with the Australian company and held a two-day conference that included a tour of Balfour Lumber’s mill in Thomasville, Ga., that deals exclusively with longleaf pine.

“Once they saw the benefits that sustainable harvesting was having on the longleaf ecosystem, the Australians decided to keep sourcing longleaf,” Abernethy said.

Another thing the Australian buyers saw firsthand was the long-term commitment of local growers to the longleaf ecosystem.

“If you grow longleaf, you are thinking in 50- to 60-year cycles,” said Angus Lafaye, chairman of the board of Milliken Forestry Company, which supplies longleaf to the Balfour mill that hosted the Australian company tour.

Planting pines

Milliken provides long-term forest management in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Owners range from families with small acreages to large landholders. Milliken Forestry has planted about a million longleaf seedlings a year since 2008. Milliken Forestry manages lands certified by the American Tree Farm System, collaborating with nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative to promote the expansion of the longleaf ecosystem.

Credit: Balfour Lumber

“The thing with people who have longleaf is getting them to keep it. Expanding markets can help with that. And even though it is a long-term commitment, landowners can start extracting value from pine straw after about 10 years,” Lafaye said. Longleaf pine straw is a prized mulch and ground cover, made up of the blanket of pine needles that fall on the ground every year.

These efforts are part of wider resurgence of longleaf. By the early 1990s, only about 2.8 million acres of this once vast and majestic forest remained. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Longleaf Alliance, its partners and commercial interests such as Milliken Forestry, the acreage of longleaf forest has increased to about 4.4 million acres. America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, a state, federal and private partnership, has a goal to protect, restore or enhance a total of 8 million acres of longleaf pine ecosystems by 2024.

But these efforts won’t realize their full potential without procurement policies that recognize that sourcing longleaf offers the best route to expanding its ecosystem.

“We need to help landowners understand that longleaf is worth preserving because it’s a high-value, sustainable resource with the potential for a growing market,” Lafaye said.

The Longleaf Alliance was awarded an SFI conservation partnership grant to provide landowners with the communication tools and facts they need to show timber buyers that longleaf pine is being harvested sustainably, and that active markets are essential to its restoration.

“Ultimately, to restore the longleaf ecosystem, we need a healthy market for higher-value longleaf products like utility poles, panelling and flooring. We are working with SFI to get the word out with landowners that longleaf has a sustainable future,” said Jimmy Bullock, senior vice president of forest sustainability at Resource Management Service, a private timberland investment firm that operates across the U.S. South.

Top image of longleaf pine trees by Arkorn via Shutterstock



Will Clean Water Act foes leave small businesses high and dry?

Published July 24, 2014
Will Clean Water Act foes leave small businesses high and dry?

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have an easy job. Just look at its work to protect clean water. Earlier this year, the EPA announced a draft "Waters of the U.S." rule to clarify which bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act. Some in Congress, and some business groups — but not all — immediately began attacking.

The reaction to the rule's announcement was predictable, if disappointing. Opponents argue that it represents a land grab by the EPA that will kill jobs and put our agricultural system at risk. Some members of Congress propose legislation to block the rule from being implemented, even before the comment period ends in October.

Is what's good for water bad for business?

So it might surprise you to learn that 80 percent of small business owners actually support that proposal. Yes, that's right: four out of five small business owners think it's a good idea for the government to protect clean water.

That's just one thing the American Sustainable Business Council found when it recently commissioned a scientific poll of small business owners nationwide. And while the poll's findings definitely contradict the media narrative around these clean water rules, they shouldn't be the least bit surprising.

The ASBC poll shows just how seriously small business takes clean water. When asked for their views on clean water regulations, 71 percent said they were necessary for economic growth and job creation, compared to only 6 percent who said they were job-killers. When these businesses owners heard both sides of the argument, 60 percent still supported regulations over deregulation.

One number in particular is worth noting: Those who supported the EPA's proposed water rule included 78 percent of self-identified Republicans. (Of the entire sample, a plurality — 43 percent — identified themselves as a Republican, or leaning Republican.) Many policymakers attacking this proposal are Republicans; but the truth is that protecting clean water should be a bipartisan issue.

That's because so many industries rely on clean water, such as tourism, agriculture, food or drink production, clothing and even technology. Clean water is an essential ingredient for them, and without it, they cannot function. You only need to look at businesses such as New Belgium Brewing Company or TS Designs, both of which gave testimony on Capitol Hill in support of clean water protections.

Even industries that don't rely directly on clean water would suffer if it were no longer available. For example, tourism in the U.S. generated $2.1 trillion in direct and indirect economic impacts last year, supporting nearly 15 million jobs. Without clean water protections, a lot of those jobs could vanish. In that case, the suffering wouldn't be limited to just a few businesses. The entire economy would take a hit. And that's just one example.

Listen to small businesses, tell the EPA

It's time to stop pretending that regulations to protect our water and air are naturally incompatible with economic growth, or that the business community is only interested in continuing to strip away those protections. Those protections are in place precisely to make sure the economy keeps growing.

There are other economic benefits, such as improvements to public health and flood preparation — those easily outweigh the rule's costs, according to the EPA. But the most important benefit is the simplest: making sure small business can keep operating, growing and creating more jobs. Small businesses, the job creation engine of our economy, know just how important this resource is, and why it needs to be protected.

So take a moment to thank the EPA. (Sending the agency a comment in support of the rule would be one way to do that.) Small business certainly will.

Top image of water and cracked earth by Yuriy Kulik via Shutterstock.



Will climate change put hockey on thin ice?

Published July 24, 2014
Will climate change put hockey on thin ice?

Could climate change result in less talented hockey players? It might not be the biggest threat presented by rising temperatures, but it is one the US National Hockey League admitted it is being forced to consider this week as part of its latest sustainability report.

Writing in the foreword to the report, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman warned that climate change and water pollution could have a direct impact on ice hockey and the world-leading NHL.

"The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world," he wrote. "But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates. Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors."

The new report this week offered an insight into the host of environmental initiatives being undertaken by the NHL and its teams under the auspices of its NHL Green initiative.

Specifically, the report reveals how the NHL has invested in energy efficiency measures at its arenas, installed new refrigeration technologies and deployed onsite renewables at five arenas, including solar arrays, biogas-fueled fuel cell technology, deep-lake water cooling, hydroelectricity, and cogeneration and geothermal systems.

It also detailed how "nearly a third of NHL venues currently participate in a demand response program, voluntarily reducing electricity demand in response to an electricity-grid peak event. ... This helps prevent blackouts and alleviates grid vulnerability."

In addition, the report includes detailed information on the NHL's environmental performance, including confirmation greenhouse gas emissions fell from just over 528,000 tons in the 2011-2012 season to over 380,000 tons in 2012-2013, albeit partly as a result of a labor dispute that saw the league shut down for a number of weeks.

The NHL also confirmed that in 2012 and 2013 it purchased renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to cover 17,236 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, comparable to taking over 3,500 cars off the roads.

Bettman said there was a compelling business case for the league's continued investment in clean technology. "We believe that this effort is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but is also a core strategy for the long-term success of our league," he said. "We have a vested interest in this cause. As a business, we rely on freshwater to make our ice, on energy to fuel our operations and on healthy communities for our athletes, employees and fans to live, work and play. Moreover, to continue to stage world-class outdoor hockey events like the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic or NHL Stadium Series, we need winter weather."

The report was welcomed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which assisted with its development.

"The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league," said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist and head of NRDC's Green Sports program. "The report's focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation."

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen. Top image by Shooter Bob Square Lenses via Shutterstock



Will that M2M solution work? AT&T is hacking the answer

By Heather Clancy
Published July 24, 2014
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Tags: Design & Innovation, Energy Conservation, More... Design & Innovation, Energy Conservation, VERGE, Waste Management
Will that M2M solution work? AT&T is hacking the answer

It's easy to get excited about machine-to-machine solutions for optimizing energy consumption, getting more efficient about waste management, conserving water and all manner of "smart" applications.

Figuring out whether an idea will work in the real world is far more difficult, but that's the mission of the AT&T Foundry, a network of five prototyping centers where customers and partners can mock up M2M ideas.

The Foundry is financed with $100 million from AT&T and "sponsors" including Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Amdocs, Intel and Microsoft. Since it was created three years ago, it has started more than 200 projects and deployed dozens of new apps and services, according to the Foundry's website.

"The concept came out of our corporation's desire to be able to do things faster and accelerate the idea of ideation and getting things to market," said Craig Lee, director of the AT&T M2M Foundry in Plano, Texas. There are two separate operations in Plano, along with operations in Israel, Atlanta and Palo Alto, Calif.

To be clear, the AT&T Foundry network isn't just focused on applications for sustainability or green business purposes: It also has a hand in practical research being conducted into broader m-health or near-field communications tasks.

From idea to working prototype in one hour

But Lee said many prototypes being considered for the Plano M2M facility have an efficiency or green twist. One new example is a "smart garbage" application that could help businesses or municipal governments optimize trash pick-up schedules. Barcelona, Spain, is piloting a similar idea in the real world.

The solution mocked up by AT&T Foundry team includes wireless sensors that can be placed on trash bins to monitor how heavy or full they have become, so drivers assigned to fixed routes know whether it's worth making a stop at certain locations, cutting down on fuel consumption. Alternatively, the technology can alert managers if someone is trying to tamper with the contents of a container or whether some sort of other service or maintenance is required.AT&T Foundry

The prototype requested by a shredding company was up and running in less than one hour, Lee said. "Instead of spinning up a pilot, we can quickly determine whether an idea is workable and provide early feedback," he said.

These projects are very much a collaborative effort. The organizations hoping to investigate a concept are generally nominated by one of AT&T's business divisions and then assigned to an AT&T Foundry location where the appropriate technologies and skill sets are available (the focus of each is slightly different) for them to tap.

"Generally, they will be folks who are coaches, who will interact with customers and partners. We set up a collaborative physical space. No one has an office, everything is on wheels and it has a small startup feel to it," Lee said.

In the Plano location, for example, a staff of six very specialized M2M engineers can handle several prototyping assignments simultaneously. Their skills include experience in radio frequency technologies, circuit board design, firmware development, chassis and housing design, and application development.

Organizations working with AT&T also gain access to components, testing equipment and resources available to aid with creation, including high-end 3-D printers, printed circuit boards and other custom antennae to bring up a piece of equipment and make it "think" it is a cellular site.

"We have a 'maker' building philosophy," Lee said.

The process is intended to answer questions such as whether data monitoring intervals are appropriate, what environmental factors might interfere with communications, the potential cost of using certain approaches (such as energy harvesting versus batteries) or how long a solution might be viable in the field before the batteries should be replaced.

Roughly speaking, each project takes 10 to 12 weeks to complete, before a determination can be made about next steps.

"Maybe we won't be able to succeed half of the time, but those failures are also a good thing," Lee said. "Ultimately, we were able to prove out the feasibility of the concept."

Other places to test M2M ideas

AT&T isn't the only large high-tech company dedicating resources to research and development focused on the Internet of Things (and incubators are all over the United States and world at the federal and local level).M2M under the microscope

Another corporation with a particular focus on this is Cisco, which in late July announced its intention to open an 18,500-square-foot Global Internet of Everything Center in Barcelona as part of a new Smart City Campus. The company intends to invest $30 million in the campus between 2015 and 2020 on IT equipment, restoration and talent. Cisco is building five IoE centers around the world. Current centers are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Songdo, South Korea, with planned facilities in Germany and Canada.

"Global IoE innovation centers — like the one just announced for Barcelona — will support customers, partners, start-ups, governments, research bodies and academia," said Anil Menon, president of Smart and Connected Communities and Cisco deputy chief globalization officer, in a statement. "These centers represent powerful hubs capable of galvanizing innovative thinking into influential new strategies for defining and building the next iteration of our cities and of our world."

A corporate-sponsored, non-profit center for emerging smart city technologies is being built in San Jose, Calif., by Prospect Silicon Valley with the idea of helping create a demonstration center for next-generation urban applications and services as they evolve, such as solar power management system, energy efficiency applications, smart grid storage and so forth.

The $12 million, 22,000-square-foot facility is being backed by sponsors including Applied Materials Foundation, BMW, Bright Green San Jose, Cisco, Continental, DENSO, Siemens, Toyota and Wells Fargo. Arup, Cooley, Faurecia and Transportation Technology Ventures also have pledged support.

Learn more about sustainability and technology at VERGE SF, Oct. 27-30. Top image of a 3D printer scan vai AT&T

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Why the climate movement needs a Nelson Mandela

By Joanna Benn
Published July 24, 2014
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Tags: Policy & Regulations, Water, More... Policy & Regulations, Water, Water Efficiency & Conservation
Why the climate movement needs a Nelson Mandela

When people think of the anti-apartheid movement, one name universally springs to mind: that of the late, great Nelson Mandela or Madiba, the South African revolutionary, philanthropist and politician. His fight began as a national issue but later came to be known and perceived as one representing global values of equity, human rights and forgiveness.

Speaking at the Global Estuaries Forum in France recently, Brice Lalonde, ambassador for climate change and special advisor on Sustainable Development to the U.N. Global Compact, called for a "Mandela for the climate movement" to rally and inspire a radical shift from individual national interests to politics and decisions favoring the planet.

In addition, Lalonde, the former French Environment Minister, called for a more holistic approach with the creation of a "planetary ambassador post" in national governments to focus on broad environmental interests of the "global commons" such as biodiversity, governance of the high seas and to deal with the impacts of climate change and its future consequences.

He indicated that climate talks to date  perhaps had been hampered by the fact that key ministers involved ultimately were required to focus on narrow national rather than global interests and that a new post with responsibility for planetary interests could be tasked with considering long-term impacts that transcended national boundaries.

Lalonde's talk came on the heels of a full day of discussion among environment experts discussing how best to manage estuaries — places where seawater and freshwater mix — and where pollution, climate change, urbanization, land reclamation, overfishing and exploitation pose major threats to their health and survival.

Brice LalondeNot only are the consequences from climate change likely to be the most diverse and unpredictable, but these "in-between areas" between land and sea do not fit an easy mold to govern. Their jurisdiction is often split between agencies tasked with managing rivers and those managing coastlines, not to mention different countries or municipalities on opposite banks.

Governments similarly were urged to work together to improve the governance and management of vulnerable estuaries such as the Nile Delta, the Seine, the Saint Lawrence, Rio de la Plata, Rotterdam, the Thames — or risk undermining some of the world’s most valuable economic and biodiversity hubs.

The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System is a deep waterway extending 2,340 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes in the heart of North America, and extends from Montreal to mid-Lake Erie. It includes 13 Canadian and two U.S. locks. Betty Sutton, administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, spoke to its bi-national governance, saying it had been challenging to negotiate but ultimately successful.

Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre in France, said governments need to regard estuaries as places for "dialogue and cooperation" rather than borders, if they are to work together to effectively balance the economic and environmental pressures and opportunities faced by estuaries.

With France also hosting the much anticipated Paris climate conference in 2015, which will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on any future international agreement on a post-Kyoto protocol 2020 regime, Lalonde was non-committal about the outcome. He commented that all the negotiators have a mandate to do something, but it was still unclear what that contribution will be. Stating that with climate change on its way and already affecting the Earth system, he commented that the issue was so important, heads of state should be the negotiators.

A common theme emerged from the meeting — new ways of managing the planet across boundaries is essential for long-term sustainability and joined-up thinking. As Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." But in the meantime, Lalonde, for one, urges countries and businesses to move forward with strong cross-border action.

Top image of the Seine in Paris by vvoe via Shutterstock

 

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Mark Chadwick

CEO
Carbon Clear
Mark founded Carbon Clear after a career in the Internet industry. After the birth of his daughter, Mark decided to invest himself full-time into helping to leave a better world for her generation. He brings to Carbon Clear a passion for contributing to the climate change solution, strong business management experience, and an enthusiasm for growing successful entrepreneurial ventures. Mark has an MBA from London Business School and also won the Guardian Unltd Award for social entrepreneurship.
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DuPont and GM's lessons for closing in on zero waste

By Matthias Krause
Published July 23, 2014
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Tags: Waste, Waste Management, More... Waste, Waste Management, Waste Reduction & Recycling
DuPont and GM's lessons for closing in on zero waste

Every time something in your company's production cycle gets thrown into a trash can and ends up in a landfill, you throw out some money.

A landfill-free strategy is too costly, too challenging, and too hard to implement, you say? Check out how the experts featured in Greenbiz's recent webcast "Innovative Approaches to Recycling and Waste Reduction" did it.

GM turns rubbish into resources

"We like to say: Waste is a resource out of place," said John Bradburn, General Motors' global manager of waste reduction. 111 of GM's facilities worldwide are landfill-free. Via recycling and reuse, GM diverted 2.2 million tons of waste from landfills, the equivalent of 38 million garbage bags. Since 2000, the company reduced its non-recycled waste by 73 percent. The total waste was diminished by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010 and by 10 percent more from 2010 to 2013. "It has been a long road for us," Bradburn said.

If you think of waste as a resource out of place, you might come up with innovative ideas that not only solve your own problems but those of others as well, just as GM did. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, GM approached BP to help recycle booms used to prevent the spilled oil reaching the beaches. GM found a way to extract the raw materials — including the oil — from the booms and incorporated it into producing air deflectors for the Chevy Volt. 227 miles of booms were recycled that way, diverting 212,500 pounds of waste from landfill and eliminating 140 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions.

Credit: Brad Marley via YouTube

Sometimes, materials can be incorporated into new products that help the community instead of polluting its environment. 4,000 yards of sound-absorbing material for GM vehicles have been made into waterproof coats that transform into sleeping bags for the homeless in Detroit. Old battery cases from Chevy Volts have been made into nesting boxes for ducks. And steel baskets used for shipping parts from Europe to Detroit serve as raised vegetable beds for community gardens. The option was to melt the metal and get a few cents per pound for it, or do a community service, Bradburn said: "We chose the community service."

It's even possible to upcycle, to transform seemingly inferior materials into something more valuable. GM uses cardboard from shipping material to produce sound-dampening material for the headliners of the Buick Lacrosse and Verano. Old tires from GM's test facilities are mixed with plastic caps that used to be protective packing aids and together with other materials they become air and water baffles for a variety of GM vehicles. "We like to combine streams. We like to solve two or three problems at the same time," said Bradburn.

But what about the costs?

The materials that leave GM's facilities to be recycled are creating $1 billion in revenue each year, Bradburn said. "But in future we want to make it zero [materials leaving GM], because we want to consume all of our materials within our processes."

DuPont's recipe for zero waste

For chemical giant DuPont, recycling typically generates revenue as well, said David Walter, the company's global business development manager. But what is even more impressive is how little manpower and time he required to make DuPont Building Innovations department landfill-free.

14 people, none of them full-time, worked on DuPont's "Drive to Zero." No capital was required for the program. Instead the company ended up saving money, Walter said. The results were no less impressive. In 2008, DuPont Building Innovations still sent 81 million pounds of waste to landfills. The company achieved the goal of taking that number down to zero on Dec. 22, 2011.

"The last couple of pounds were very stubborn, but we knew that that was going to be the case," Walter said. And he took an important lesson away from the experiment, besides all the environmental and economic benefits: "Never underestimate the power of a dedicated group of people committed to a vision. That was a key learning for us, for sure."

Credit: DuPont via YouTube

The most important step in the beginning of the project was to thoroughly access the waste streams. That data was not readily available. "We did some deep mapping," Walter said. Why were the materials there? Where were they produced? When were they produced? After the first step, the process was guided by the EPA waste management hierarchy, with reduce and reuse as the more desirable options and recycle and energy recovery as the less desirable ones, resulting in a whole laundry list of things to do.

  1. Scrap sheet and trim ground back into first-grade material or ground into drain rock
  2. Carrier film recycled into glue
  3. Metal melted down and recast
  4. Banding melted and recast into same
  5. Pallets repaired and re-purposed
  6. Scrap wood ground into animal bedding
  7. Paper and cardboard recycled back into same

Tips from a waste management pro

GM and DuPont were optimizing their existing production processes, but even if a product is designed from scratch, the idea of a circular economy is often poorly implemented. "We are still acting very linear. We tend to pass on the problem," said Tom Carpenter, director of Waste Management Sustainability Services.

Instead, it needs to be more of a matrix approach that takes into account that all parts for the production process are interrelated. For the best results, the important questions need to be ask in the design phase of a new product already, Carpenter said: "We should be asking: What is the end of use of this material? What is the next use of this material?"

In Carpenter's opinion, it also is important to test the products in a real-life environment. Only if the material did indeed run successfully through a recycling facility can one can be sure that it is suitable. Sometimes, Carpenter said, even subtle changes, such as the use of a different coloring of a product, can make the difference between more waste going to landfills or materials finding a new life.

Top image of empty wastebasket by JOAT via Shutterstock.

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Sainsbury's turns its own expired food into electricity

By James Murray
Published July 23, 2014
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Tags: Energy, Renewables, More... Energy, Renewables, Waste, Waste Management, Waste Reduction & Recycling
Sainsbury's turns its own expired food into electricity

Sainsbury's has today announced its Cannock, England store effectively will come off the national grid, following the installation of a direct link between the supermarket and a local anaerobic digestion plant.

The supermarket giant said that the move meant the store was being powered by the company's own food waste, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and waste costs in the process.

The project, which has been delivered in partnership with waste management giant Biffa, follows hot on the heels of the announcement that Sainsbury's has taken out a new $341 million "green" loan to finance sustainability improvements across its estate.

The move further strengthens Sainsbury's existing zero waste to landfill policy, which already sees it donate suitable food to charities or ensure that it is used for animal feed. The remaining food waste is sent to the Cannock anaerobic digestion plant, where it produces enough low-carbon power for 2,500 homes a year. However, the new addition of a dedicated 1.5km electricity cable to the Cannock store means the company is now able to directly use its own green power.

"Sainsbury's sends absolutely no waste to landfill and we're always looking for new ways to reuse and recycle," said Paul Crewe, head of sustainability at the company. "So we're delighted to be the first business ever to make use of this linkup technology, allowing our Cannock store to be powered entirely by our food waste."

Jeff Anderson, managing director of Biffa's I&C division, said the partnership underlined the attractiveness of anaerobic digestion technology to business customers.

"Biffa has provided Sainsbury's with a food collection and processing service for many years," he said. "By converting food waste to renewable energy, [Biffa] demonstrates our commitment to innovation and the environment. Biffa has a national network of dedicated food collection vehicles providing services for large and smaller customers."

Top image of Sainsbury's store by Elliott Brown via Flickr. This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.

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How PECI engages employees on small projects for big impact

By Jessica Zahn
Published July 23, 2014
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Tags: Employees, Office
How PECI engages employees on small projects for big impact

How to engage employees in the conversation about workplace sustainability? How to turn limited resources into efforts that make a real difference, are meaningful to people and are financially sustainable?

Seeking answers to these questions is my job as coordinator of sustainability and internal communications at PECI, an energy-efficiency non-profit headquartered in Portland.

Our clear advantage, as an energy-efficiency non-profit, is the personal commitment to sustainability that employees bring to the workplace. At lunchtime on any given day, people are just as likely to swap tips on container gardening as they are to comment on pop culture or sports. Every day, 29 percent of employees commute by bike and 43 percent use public transit. We’re continuously seeking ways to reduce paper consumption and divert more of our waste to compost and recycling.

So when it comes to ideas for improving our sustainability, our employees are our best resource. Last year, we came up with a new way to gather and implement those ideas.

Sustainability Kickstart

Our green team, which is responsible for creating PECI’s environmental policies and promoting employee education and community outreach, decided to allocate some of its budget to fund a Sustainability Kickstart. We designed this internal grant program to provide direct financial support and project management for new sustainability efforts. We asked for ideas that would help PECI hit the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit with a budget up to $1,000 per project.

To be considered, employees submitted an application describing the environmental and social/cultural benefits of their ideas, as well as costs and anticipated timelines. Applications were reviewed by a single-blind, 14-employee panel that included leaders of our green team, members of the IT department, our facilities manager and employees who work in the field, away from our main office. The group discussed and debated each idea, came back with questions for the applicants, and ultimately decided to move ahead with two projects: a bike share program and a subsidy on fresh fruit in our on-site vending services.

The winners had the responsibility to get their ideas off the ground in order to implement them. Each project was supported by a team, which made it easy to divide up tasks, hold each other accountable and maintain momentum.

The aim of the PECI Bike Share was to create a new, zero-emission transportation option for employees. We work in a dense urban environment, and many of our partners live in close proximity. Bikes provide an easy way to go to meetings — faster than buses and more convenient than hunting for street parking. The team leading this project wanted to provide an opportunity for those without a bike to use one during the day for work purposes or to check one out for the weekend for personal use.

Luckily, one team member has a background in bike repair and knew what to look for when researching a model that would be comfortable for most riders. As the project developed, we learned that there are legal considerations for using a shared bike. We worked with our legal department to create a waiver, and the team created a bike-safety video for employees to watch before they take the bikes out. As a result, we now have two company-branded bikes with lights, locks, bells and panniers. They’ve been taken to meetings, networking events, volunteer events, running errands and for leisurely lunchtime rides.

The Fresh Fruit Subsidy project aimed to promote healthy food choices. While fresh fruit had been available at the vending marketplace in our kitchen area for some time, it wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves. The idea behind this submission was two-fold. First, make people aware that fruit is available (moving it to eye-level and near other best-sellers); second, use subsidized pricing to entice people to purchase fruit over the other typical vending options. In discussing the idea, our panel wondered whether the project would help us develop a fresh-fruit habit that would last after the subsidy ends. Ultimately, they agreed that this type of experimentation is precisely what Kickstart is about — fantastic if successful, but otherwise a valuable lesson about behavior change and subsidization.

The project team worked directly with our third-party food vending service to collect data and coordinate changes to on-site displays. They enlisted the help of one of our marketing copywriters to create signs around the office to promote awareness of the changes. For four months, the price of fruit was dropped by 80 percent. As a result, we saw a 1,700 percent increase in fruit sales over historical data. Employees expressed that knowing about the fruit option helped them make healthier choices by encouraging them to purchase fruit more regularly.

After the success of the initial subsidy, our administration team elected to implement a permanent subsidy. We’ve since maintained strong fruit sales, averaging 330 pieces of fruit sold per month over an average of 13 pieces per month before the introduction of the Kickstart’s fruit subsidy. Anecdotally, we think the rise in fruit purchases has positively influenced our wastestream: when people choose fruit instead of snacks with packaging, they produce compostable waste instead of landfill.

What We Learned

Funding these small projects has proved to be a unique and relatively inexpensive way to engage our employees. Along the lines of Susan Camberis’ June article on sustainability and employee engagement, we experienced the “golden triangle” firsthand, and witnessed how “positively affecting one of the three factors (sustainability) [can], in turn, positively affect the other two (employee engagement and business results).”

We made the most of our limited resources by engaging our willing pool of environmentally mindful employees and giving them the opportunity to express what they’re most passionate about. As a result, they were active participants and helped move the organization’s sustainability efforts forward in ways that no one person can. We learned that integrating sustainability practices in the workplace is what people want. And so we’re gearing up for another Sustainability Kickstart this year.

If you find yourself thinking, “I doubt my company has as many advocates for sustainability as yours does,” let me suggest that you might be surprised. Then again, assuming that you’re right, bear in mind that it doesn’t necessarily take much to unleash plenty. And that's the whole point.

Top image: PECI staffers JJ Green and Sandy Nguyen head out for lunch using the PECI bike share (Credit: PECI.)

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