Get the best of GreenBiz delivered to you -- GreenBuzz e-news

The Right Chemistry

Susan Shaheen: How car sharing accelerates sustainability

Published October 14, 2014
Susan Shaheen: How car sharing accelerates sustainability

Catch Susan Shaheen in person at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.

If you've attempted to dive deep into the topic of car sharing, chances are you've come across Susan Shaheen, or at least some of her studies. About 18 years ago she fell in love with the concept, even though she'd probably never put it that way.

The idea of car sharing "resonated" with her, she said, as a Ph.D. student at the University of California at Davis looking for a dissertation topic. She saw a lecture by Michael Glotz-Richter, a German Marshall Fund Fellow from Bremen. She was fascinated by behavioral effects of people joining car sharing, and the resulting benefits for the environment, she recalled from her office at the University of California at Berkeley, home of the Institute of Transportation Studies, where she serves as a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

"He essentially showed that 44 percent or 45 percent of vehicle kilometers traveled were declining due to the use of car sharing, and people were selling their cars or not buying cars, somewhere around 7 to 15 I think the numbers were,"  Shaheen said. The reductions in energy use and CO2 emissions were notable, achieved by people changing their behavior.

"I had been working on this idea of the station car that goes to and from the transit station. Is there a way that those vehicles could be shared and we could bring the concept of car sharing to the U.S.? And I was really deeply interested, and studying this by actually demonstrating it, putting a real project on the ground and seeing if we could get people to behave differently, and that's where my work began."

By the numbers

Now Shaheen can prove that the numbers in North America are actually very similar to what Glotz-Richter witnessed in Germany. In a recent study with close to 7,000 participants, a stunning 50 percent either sold a car or didn't buy one because car sharing was available.

And while the general concept has been around for a while now, Shaheen still sees a lot of potential for growth. The classic model of sharing is a round-trip, station-based model. But recently, point-to-point car sharing services have been making inroads, a concept that allows participants to actually use the service to commute to work instead of relying on it more typically just on evenings or weekends.

Shaheen added, "We see college market applications of it in the university environment. We also see employer-based applications of it, and then there's peer-to-peer, so you put your own personal vehicle in. There's a lot of room for expanding this or scaling it into new market segments, both physical and socio-demographic — so older individuals, younger individuals, say in the college setting, but maybe also in retirement communities."

Credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

She sees opportunities to move into a suburban setting with peer-to-peer sharing concepts as well. Which does require a significant behavioral change, though — people having to get into the mindset of sharing their personal asset: their car. And there are risks that need to be addressed, such as the questions of what the insurance is willing to cover. Shaheen feels that the context of the greater sharing economy, a hot topic among Silicon Valley investors, furthers the evolvement of making one's car available for others to use instead of having it sit for 90 percent of its lifetime as well.

"People sharing rooms in their houses through services like Airbnb use TaskRabbit, where people are offering up individualized services to other individuals in their communities," said Shaheen. "We are also seeing bike sharing, which has grown really rapidly. We're seeing scooter networks here in San Francisco, and there's a similar type of program in Barcelona. We're seeing ride sourcing or these types of services that allow people to be community drivers of their own private vehicle and take people from point to point, like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar."

New players are coming into the mobility space and providing options, bringing a new perspective to an old problem.

At the same time, players in the traditional auto environment are starting to toy with the idea that they have to think differently about transportation. Maybe the aim is no longer to have as many people as possible own cars, but to provide transportation services — including real-time traffic information and parking information — and allow people to use cars when they need to without having to own them. Often, Shaheen conceded, the environment turns out to be an afterthought, no more than a welcomed side effect.

All gain, no pain

Which brings Shaheen back to her high school years in upstate New York. As a young student, she started thinking about why protecting the environment is considered a sacrifice.

"Why can't it just be a competitive, compelling, interesting and exciting option, an innovative option that makes me feel really good?" she asked herself back then — and it seems that the challenge of yielding environmental benefits without having to sacrifice hasn't lost its relevance today.

Shaheen grew up in what she describes as a safe, suburban environment, taking the bus to school and the bike to get to the stores, the movie theater or the tennis court. She credits her family's strong agricultural background for her interest in environmental issues.

"We always had gardens and it was a very agrarian environment, so I don't think it was clear to me that I was going to be connected to the environment," she said. "I think it was just organic."

Top image of Susan Shaheen courtesy of UC Berkeley.



Interface's Net-Works program brings fish net recycling to Africa

Published October 14, 2014
Interface's Net-Works program brings fish net recycling to Africa

Last month, the Net-Works team had the honor of being in the heart of New York City during Climate Week, participating in the Clinton Global Initiative.

For the past two years, the Net-Works team, made up of changemakers within Interface and the Zoological Society of London, has been dedicated to designing and proving an inclusive business model. This model enables impoverished fishing communities in the Philippines to collect damaging, discarded fishing nets from the ocean and shores. The nets are sold to our yarn supplier, which recycles the nets into nylon yarn that we use in our carpets.

Net-Works in the Philippines has been a success because of the time and dedication committed by our partnership. Making the decision to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative was difficult for us because the time and resources needed to properly make our “commitment to action” and attend the event were time and resources not going directly to the work on the ground.

Once we arrived, all those concerns immediately were replaced by palpable electricity in the air. At first, we felt it was just the rush of being part of such an epic week in the city, but we soon found out that the air literally was humming with the thousands who descended on New York for the historic People’s Climate March. Heather Koldewey, of the Zoological Society of London, and I quickly rushed down to the street, anxious to take part in such a momentous occasion. It was the perfect way to kickstart the week, marching alongside more than 350,000 people dedicated to making change. 

Inspired and energized, we set about the task at hand: declaring our commitment to action.

Our Interface delegate, chief innovation officer Nigel Stansfield, was gracefully received behind the velvet curtain, alongside political and environmental superstars, heads of state and visiting dignitaries. 

Meanwhile, in the lobby of the Times Square Sheraton, hundreds of “do-ers” — support staff, program managers, advocates and press — carved out impromptu offices from which to network and connect. Everywhere I looked, people actively were engaged in conversation, excited as they talked through ways to collaborate on some of our world’s most pressing challenges, including environmental protection, supporting the fragile infrastructure of developing countries and providing a sustainable future for precious social and ecological resources.

It was impossible to have a bad conversation. 

On day two, Nigel participated in an interactive session focused on proving the interdependence of conservation, profitability and economic growth, a meaty topic. He used the power of storytelling to share the history of Net-Works, showcase how the program delivers commercial, environmental and social benefit for all participants, and ultimately delivered our official commitment to action.

Net-Works will add three new net collection hubs in three years and positively affect 10,000 people by 2020.

So that’s it. We’re official.

We always have believed our unconventional partnership would make a dramatic difference in social and environmental sustainability by bringing some of the poorest people in the world into the global supply chain, and by turning waste into resource. But now we’ve declared to the world that we want to grow — and fast.

When Nigel came out of his session, he walked over to our “office” with the grin of a father who just watched his child ride off without training wheels for the first time. As Jesse Jackson sat to our left and Muhammad Yunus walked down the hall, I realized this was exactly where we were meant to be: together as a team, in a flurry of world-changing activity, throwing down a gauntlet.

To date, we have collected 85,000 pounds of discarded fishing nets with our two hubs in the Philippines. Those are nets that are no longer choking the marine ecosystem, but instead have provided supplemental income for people to help support their families. Now those nets will be given a second useful life — as nylon yarn we use in our carpet tile.

Next year, we will launch Net-Works in the Lake Ossa area of Cameroon, West Africa. Our team of marine biologists, manufacturing experts, materials scientists and innovation managers likely will encounter new challenges and face operational hurdles. I am confident that we will overcome them together as a team.

boysittinginnets_zoologicalsocietyoflondon.



Beyond treaties: A new way of framing global climate action

Published October 13, 2014
Beyond treaties: A new way of framing global climate action

This article was originally published by Yale Environment 360.

The recent United Nations Climate Summit in New York passed with many promises, but no firm pledges. Most notably, China's vice-premier Zhang Gaoli promised his country would peak its carbon dioxide emissions "as soon as possible," and President Obama said that next year he would publish a plan to cut U.S. emissions after 2020. On the fringes, major corporations trading in agricultural commodities grown on former rainforest land joined with governments in signing a declaration promising to halve net deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030.

The summit never was intended to conduct detailed negotiations for a new climate treaty. Those talks will take place between now and the U.N. climate conference in Paris at the end of next year, which is intended to deliver the legally binding national commitments that a similar event failed to deliver in Copenhagen in 2009.

But behind the scenes, some are asking what happens if there isn't a deal in Paris. Or even how much it matters whether there is such a deal. Failure is possible, after all. The political winds are even less propitious today than they were five years ago.

Economic stasis continues in Europe, previously the most vocal advocate of action on climate change. Earlier this month, the European Union decided to do away with a stand-alone climate commissioner in Brussels, merging the post with the energy portfolio. The new post-holder, Miguel Arias Cañete, holds shares in an oil company and, when he was agriculture minister at home in Spain, sat in a government that cut spending on renewables, in defiance of EU policy.

Meanwhile, Germany, once Europe's climate tub-thumpers-in-chief, is in a messy transition on climate policy as it burns ever more coal, while shutting down its fleet of low-carbon nuclear power stations. Japan's emissions are rising post-Fukushima. And Russia, the world's second largest oil producer, is not about to cozy up to anyone on climate policy.

It sounds bleak. Strangely, all may not be lost. The answer may lie in Plan B — reframing the entire climate issue as one of national decision-making and self-interest, rather than global treaty-writing. A close reading of national policies shows that many countries are taking action on climate not because they have made legally binding international commitments, but because they want to.

Plan B began to emerge in the aftermath of Copenhagen. By the following year's U.N. climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, many nations with no previous formal emissions targets — including Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and China — had made their own domestic commitments. Most were about cutting the carbon intensity of their economies rather than actually cutting emissions. But it was a start.

Some targets were aspirational. But Britain passed a Climate Change Act requiring future governments to cut emissions decade by decade to deliver an 80-percent reduction in emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels.

Skeptics would point out that, without international treaties to hold their feet to the fire, future governments always could repeal laws they find inconvenient. But that may be to misread what is going on. The commitments are not about burden sharing internationally, but about self-interested domestic energy policy.

Many agree with two former U.S. senators, Timothy Wirth and Thomas Daschle, writing at Yale Environment 360 in May, that national self-interest is the only likely route to cutting emissions.

For 20 years since talks began to draw up the first Kyoto protocol — whose meek emissions targets expired at the end of 2012 without being fully replaced — negotiations have taken place around "burden sharing." Cutting emissions has been assumed to be bad for economies, so nobody has wanted to go faster than anyone else.

The United States, in particular, refused to take on any formal commitments unless emerging industrial rivals in Asia did, too. But those countries said their low, recent emissions were not to blame for climate change so far. The result: deadlock.

But suppose that is exactly the wrong way to look at the issue — 20th-century thinking when the world has 21st century technology at hand. Suppose there is no real economic penalty for being a climate good guy. And suppose that going green is actually a boon to economic growth, with the short-term costs of adopting low-carbon solutions quickly outweighed by benefits from industrial efficiency, more jobs, healthier air and more productive ecosystems.

It sounds like a utopian vision. But it is what is increasingly being argued by some economists.

Earlier this month, it was the main message of a report, "Better Climate, Better Growth: The New Climate Economy," from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. This is an independent body chaired by Felipe Calderon, former president of Mexico, and Lord Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics, whose Stern Review in 2006 first opened up a debate about the economics of tackling climate change. The report's authors included researchers from two leading environment think tanks, the World Resources Institute and Stockholm Environment Institute, economists from McKinsey and others.

Their central conclusion is that low-carbon investment is a smarter way to economic wealth than high-carbon investment. It will restructure economies and societies — and even corporations — so that they enjoy better economic growth. There is no longer a burden-sharing downside. It is a race to the top. High-tech and high efficiency equal low carbon.

The report looks in detail at urban design, energy and land use, and concludes that "all countries at all levels of income now have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth at the same time as reducing the immense risks of climate change."

Denser, greener cities have lower transport costs and reduced health bills, especially for illnesses caused by air pollution. Smog illness currently reduces GDP by 4 percent in many countries, the report notes, and by more than 10 percent in China. Meanwhile, smarter and more intensive food production that brings abandoned and degraded farmland back into productive use will deliver higher yields, bigger profits and reduced carbon emissions as forest loss is stemmed. Finally, with the costs of renewables down 90 percent in the last decade, the report said, these energy sources are now competitive with coal for power generation.

In comments to reporters, no authors of the commission report said a global treaty to fight climate change would be anything other than a good thing. It would send important signals that encouraged action by governments and companies. But the report's lead author, Jeremy Oppenheim, a London-based economist at business consultant McKinsey, said a deal in Paris "is not essential. All the things we propose are in the economic interests of countries on their own terms."

Similarly, a recent report from the respected British consultants Cambridge Econometrics (PDF) forecast that the planned 60-percent cut in U.K. carbon emissions would deliver a GDP that was 1.1 percent higher than if the country stuck to a high-carbon economy. Countries, the report found, should be making these changes out of self-interest.

But just because the economics may stack up does not mean a low-carbon economy will emerge automatically. Capitalism isn't so simple.

Right now, said Stern, the markets and governments are rigged against the economically (and environmentally) optimum path to growth. The vested interests in high-carbon are huge. They are on display in the current pushback by the U.S. power industry against Obama's June announcement of rules to cut carbon pollution from the country's power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Estimates of the amount of government subsidies given to fossil fuels around the world range from the International Energy Agency's half a trillion dollars a year to the International Monetary Fund's $2.3 trillion. Even the lower figure is six times the total subsidies for renewables. According to the IMF, fossil-fuel subsidies "crowd out growth-enhancing public spending."

Moreover, pure market forces cannot counter the hidden costs of dirty fuels, such as higher health bills and environmental damage. Such subsidies and market failures, Stern said, slow growth as well as pollute the atmosphere and cause deaths. They have to be tamed. Carbon pricing is one route, institutional investors agree. Earlier this month, investors handling trillions of dollars a year called on governments to establish a stable system for global carbon pricing. They said it would reduce the risks to their investments from climate change.

All this leads Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace UK, to argue in a recent report that international climate negotiations should be focused less on setting national emissions targets and more on fixing these perverse financial incentives against a low-carbon economy.

Yet despite the dysfunctional markets, green growth already may be fitfully turning into reality. Witness how major corporations consuming agricultural commodities signed up at the U.N. climate summit last week to a New York Declaration on Forests — an initiative that the World Resources Institute said "could result in more emissions reductions than removing every car, bus and plane from the U.S., China and India combined."

As part of the declaration, the companies promised to cut forest loss from their activities by half by 2020 and to end it by 2030, and to push a massive effort to restore degraded croplands — potentially preventing billions of tons of carbon emissions annually. With productive land running out, they see this as good, self-interested business as well as climate-smart.

Many governments, in varying manners and to varying degrees, also seem to see national benefits from reducing their dependence on high-carbon fossil fuels. China has reduced its annual rise in coal consumption from 18 percent a decade ago to almost zero. Coal burning is set to decline in China starting in about 2020, according to some analysts. The reasons include both the health costs of killer smog and the growing availability of cheap low-carbon alternatives, from nuclear to solar.

The new technology-minded Indian government of Narendra Modi is committed to bringing electricity to the 400 million rural Indians without power from the grid through the installation of solar panels. But Modi, who did not attend the U.N. climate summit, has a long way to go. The Global Carbon Project points out that the carbon intensity of the Indian economy is still bucking global trends by continuing to increase.

Nonetheless, the global explosion in solar power is a major reason why almost half of all new electricity generating capacity coming on stream last year was from renewables. And that trend helps explain why there has been at least a partial break in the previously lockstep rise of global GDP and CO2 emissions, which historically have increased at about the same levels.

According to a study for the European Union, in 2012 global GDP rose by 3.5 percent while CO2 emissions rose only 1.1 percent. "We are seeing a decoupling of CO2 emissions from global economic growth," said co-author Greet Janssens-Maenhout, a researcher at the EU's Joint Research Center. She may have been premature — the gap narrowed in 2013, according to the Global Carbon Project. But the signs of progress are there.

This doesn't mean the end of the climate crisis is in sight. Far from it. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rose at a record rate last year, due in part to nature's faltering ability to soak up the enormous amount of greenhouses gases that we emit.

And time is short. According to a new study published last week in Nature Geoscience, at current emission rates the trillionth ton of CO2 from human activity would be thrown into the atmosphere in about 30 years. That would mark the moment when many scientists say we will be all but committed to warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius, the presumed threshold for dangerous climate change.

If the economists who note the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy are right, and if we fail to halt the danger, then politics will be more to blame than economics. But if self-interest is the route to saving the climate, then maybe we still have a chance.

internationalflags_leonardzhukovsky_sstock.



Why Procter & Gamble is resetting its sustainability goals

Published October 13, 2014
Why Procter & Gamble is resetting its sustainability goals

Today, Procter & Gamble is updating its sustainability commitments, expanding some of its efforts and dialing back on another. Behind that announcement is a larger story about how the world’s largest consumer packaged goods story is viewing sustainability these days.

Setting sustainability goals for a multinational company can be tricky stuff. How high can you set the bar and still set yourself up for success? And what if you reach your goal ahead of schedule — do you raise the bar? What if you’re not making the progress you hoped — do you lower the bar? Four years ago, P&G set a series of 10-year goals. As it nears the halfway point, it’s a good time to reassess.

As part of its assessment, P&G is adding four new 2020 goals, aimed at expanding its efforts in water conservation and improving the environmental sustainability of its packaging. It is also revising an existing goal to drive more innovation on renewable materials.

The reassessment coincides with the emergence of Martin Riant, group president, Global Baby and Feminine & Family Care, who late last year became P&G’s executive sponsor of sustainability, a position for which he volunteered. Riant, who has been with the company since 1980, took a fresh look at the 2010 goals. Riant leads Procter and Gamble’s $21 billion baby, feminine and family care business. The sector features a portfolio of powerful billion-dollar brands such as Pampers — P&G’s largest — and Bounty, Charmin and Always, along with other iconic brands including Tampax, Naturella, Puffs and Luvs.

“As I came in to my role the first thing I was looking at is, are we very clear on where we have our strategic focus on sustainability?” he told me recently. “Are we really working on the areas that are going to have the most impact, both in terms of sustainability but also in helping us create value as a company?

“The vast majority of those goals that we established at the time looked like they were in the right order of magnitude and we should be able to deliver on them by 2020. ... (However,) it became apparent that while we’re on track for most of these goals, there are some areas which we should be acting on — or should at least be talking about — that were simply absent from the goals.”

Moreover, “The goals weren’t sufficiently hardwired with the business units in the company,” a state of affairs with which many corporate sustainability executives can identify.

Liquid assets

The water goals being announced today reflect the understanding among many companies about the declining or unreliability of that precious resource in many parts of the world. While Riant said P&G isn’t a major water user in most areas where it operates, it’s still a growing concern. The lion's share of P&G's water impacts come during the consumer-use phase — think shampoo, toothpaste and laundry detergent.

As a result, the company is focused on the smaller share: water used in its own facilities. Specifically, P&G is committing to reduce water used in its manufacturing by 20 percent per unit of production, with a specific focus on conservation efforts at facilities in water-stressed regions, and to provide 1 billion people access to “water-efficient products,” although that is not defined.

As part of its focus on water, the company is being "much more rigorous about doing assessments of our facilities,” said Riant. “Before any new facility is located or decided upon, we want to make sure we understand its supportability from a water availability point of view. We are also going through each of our existing facilities and understanding the current water availability environment where they are located. Are they in stressed areas? Do we need to give them a priority in the interventions that we can make from a technology point of view? I think we’re getting much more systemic about our operations in that regard because it’s necessary given the problems in some areas now.”

I asked Riant how much of the company’s water-efficiency goals will come from new technology and how much from operational changes. “It’s frankly quite hard to separate the two,” he responded. “A lot of the what you might call operational impacts are very dependent on us finding new, efficient processes. There will also be operating efficiencies — being careful that we recycle water by allowing it to evaporate out of the system and that kind of thing — but a lot of it is coming up with novel, more efficient technologies for using water.”

Foiled by oil

The other part of P&G’s announcement has to do with its commitment, set out four years ago, to replace 25 percent of its petroleum-derived raw materials with renewable materials by 2020. Today, the company is revising that commitment downward. Rather, stated the company, it is committing “to creating technologies by 2020 that would let P&G substitute its top petroleum-derived raw materials with renewable materials, as cost and scale permit.”

To be sure, there’s an barrelful of squishiness in that statement.

The original commitment turned out to be unfeasible, due in large part to the drop in petroleum prices brought about by the fracking revolution. That made the cost of adopting alternative solutions less financially viable.

Like so many seemingly simple commitments — to outsiders, at least — this one turned out to be not-so-simple.

“We developed a number of solutions, but they proved to be too costly and too complex to expand on a global scale,” Riant said. “As we started getting into the process of going through our materials list and seeing what we could change to biobased feedstocks, these were at a scale nobody had really done before.” Each new process “needed to be confirmed, scaled up and done in an affordable way, and in many cases would require substantial infrastructure investment by our supply base to get there.

“In other cases, the materials already existed but the cost of production was so much higher than the petro-based materials that to get to a full 25 percent substitution by 2020 would have hugely added costs either to us, our suppliers or the consumer. And based on where we understand consumers to be in terms of not wanting to make tradeoffs in that respect, we said, ‘We’re just not going to be able to go that fast but we shouldn’t stop. Eventually we’re going to need to do this.’”

The company has started to incorporate some of the more available and affordable feedstocks in parts of the business, said Riant, “partly to get the learning of how to use them but also to learn how we can start to engage consumers in a way that would impact their purchase preference.” For example, Pantene Nature Fusions is packaged in bio-plastic bottles, and the company has made that part of the brand positioning.

The potential payoff

Meeting its sustainability goals is not just a technology challenge, said Riant. It’s also a people challenge. “We’ve got to learn how to communicate this to consumers in a way that they can make a choice for more sustainable products, and somehow converge getting more affordable costs with the consumer willing to pay a little bit more for these biobased products, until they really have a scale.”

It’s a challenge that P&G — along with every other consumer goods company — has struggled with for more than two decades: inspiring consumers to embrace sustainability in no-compromises kind of way.

“I don’t think we’ve done nearly enough with consumers in this area,” said Riant. “Some of that flows from us not having the businesses as connected in the delivery of our sustainability goals as they need to be. And that’s something we’re changing. I think there is a lot of upside if we can make sustainability more accessible and transparent to consumers so people can actually find out what we’re putting in our products and why, and how renewable they are. And then, as we make progress in this area, communicating that to consumers in a way that it makes the overall proposition more attractive.”

The potential payoff is considerable. Procter & Gamble serves nearly 5 billion people around the world — about 70 percent of the planet. Getting even a fraction of those souls committed to less-resource-intensive products could lead to significant reductions in energy, material and water use, solid waste, and their concomitant greenhouse gas emissions.

It won't be easy, but the convergence of technology and people can ease the way. “In the days when a lot of our communication with the consumer was a 30-second TV commercial, you’re not going to allow much of your communication time to be about sustainability because you need to communicate a reason why the consumer should choose your product,” said Riant. But online is a different world, where interested consumers can click endlessly to learn more: “It gives us much more option to introduce elements of sustainability into the overall consumer communication on our brands, and that’s something we’ll be working on.”

For Riant, this isn’t just business — it’s personal. Before we ended our conversation, he emphasized that he is “personally very keen to make this happen,” referring to the company’s overall sustainability strategy. “I am in charge of a business which is essentially a disposable business. I would feel much better personally if more of those products were made of renewable materials and were ending their life more usefully.”

Photocollage at top by GreenBiz Group

Also in The Two Steps Forward Blog:


Is Santa Claus in a new war zone or a growth market?

By Sharon Burke
Published October 13, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Energy & Climate, Government, More... Energy & Climate, Government, Policy & Regulations
Is Santa Claus in a new war zone or a growth market?

Of all those in Russia's "near abroad," who nervously look over their shoulders at Ukraine and wonder who is next, one individual has more cause to worry than most: Santa Claus.

Vladimir Putin has, after all, claimed the North Pole as Russian territory, going so far as to plant a flag under the ice and establish a new Arctic military command. For that matter, Canada and Denmark also have declared ownership of the North Pole and are stepping up their polar military presence, as well.

The children of America can relax, however: Santa is not likely to get caught in the crossfire. Only someone with mystical powers could afford a significant year-round military presence at the North Pole right now. There's no actual land there, just snow and ice with more than 13,000 feet of frigid ocean underneath and summer temperatures that barely break 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

That hasn't stopped the hype, however, about a new arms race in the far north, or a land grab, or a trade war. On the other hand, what's happening in the North Pole will be consequential — just maybe not in the ways grand strategists expect.

If this keen interest in the Arctic seems sudden, in many ways it is. Much of the recent literature on the subject won't necessarily clear up why that's the case, though. In their article announcing the launch of the new Congressional Arctic Working Group, for example, Representatives Don Young and Rick Larsen point to new regional shipping, tourism and resource extraction opportunities and security challenges, but they gloss over the reason this is happening.

Here is the reason: the sea ice in the Arctic is melting. This is not an opinion; it is an observed phenomenon, documented by satellite imagery. There is variation in the amount of ice from year-to-year, but the last 20 years have seen the most pronounced thawing trend in recorded human history. This is climate change, and it's not just an academic point to score. A better understanding of why the thaw is happening will help us plan for a smarter, safer future.

So, is a melting Arctic an economic opportunity or a military challenge? An entirely new global shipping route, after all, does generate excitement in both camps. The answer to that question could determine just how worried we all should be.

The economic impact of an Arctic that is open for business could be huge. For centuries, explorers have sought a polar shortcut between Asia and Europe, potentially trimming thousands of miles off the journey. Last year, Canada finally recovered the 170-year-old remains of one of those ill-fated expeditions — the same year that as many as 91 ships safely crossed the Northwest and Northeast passages through the Arctic, a record.

In that context, it looks more sensible than sinister that China, a non-Arctic nation, is building its second icebreaker and seeking property in the region. China has a strong economic motive, given its reliance on trade. There's also China's increasingly urgent quest to diversify its energy supplies, as its import dependence continues to soar. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates (PDF) that 13 percent of the world's remaining oil and 30 percent of its natural gas are in the region, as well as minerals important to today's high-tech economy. It's not been technically or economically feasible to confirm what's there, but the surrounding geology and reserves facilitate an educated guess, and the melting ice is starting to make it possible to explore for and produce Arctic resources.

Another sign that this is an economic challenge: Shell, already having spent $6 billion in the Alaskan Arctic, has announced new plans to drill off Alaska's northern coast, despite a mishap in the area last year. Exxon-Mobil is drilling a $3.2 billion test well in the Kara Sea right now, although the project's future may be at risk due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and U.S. sanctions.

Russia, of course, complicates what appears to be an economic opportunity. With the longest Arctic coastline and a sea route with warmer, faster-thawing waters, Russia has a clear comparative advantage in the region. Part of that advantage is its 38 icebreakers — more than double all the other Arctic countries' fleets combined — and the world's only nuclear icebreaker fleet. But here's the thing: Although Russia is noisily claiming to be re-establishing its Cold War-era polar military presence, most of its actual investments are focused on oil and gas and areas that are clearly Russian territory.

Territorial matters have the potential to be incendiary, however. These new shipping channels run through an almost fully enclosed ocean, ringed by five nations, which in the past have not really needed to iron out competing claims in the largely inaccessible region. As that situation has begun to change, some territorial disagreements have been worked out peacefully. But considering that four Arctic nations are NATO members and one is Russia, remaining claims may be harder to resolve these days, and the differences in regional presence are becoming more strategically significant.

In other words, the economic and military interests in the Arctic are not only both important, they are intertwined.

So, what is Uncle Sam to do? As an Arctic and seafaring nation, the United States also has compelling economic and military interests at stake, but not much capacity to promote those interests. And yet President Obama's Arctic Strategy (PDF) largely vows just to study the matter, in a wait-and-see approach.

Strangely enough, that may well be the best strategy, at least for now. "The challenge," as U.S. Department of Defense report (PDF) to Congress noted, "is to balance the risk of being late-to-need with the opportunity cost of making premature Arctic investments." Indeed.

The area is still difficult and dangerous to transit and that is likely to be the case for some time to come, and specialized polar equipment is very expensive. Consider Canada's ambitious plans to build a new naval base at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage. As those costs ballooned past $200 million, Canada quietly scaled back to a 15-person seasonal outpost with no airstrip. For that matter, the Congressional Arctic Working Group notwithstanding, it remains to be seen if Congress is willing to foot the $1 billion bill for a single polar icebreaker.

But just because it may not pay to be a first mover in Arctic investments does not mean the United States should do nothing at all to get ready for the Arctic spring. The recent appointment of a Special U.S. Representative for the Arctic could help, especially with the U.S. taking its turn as chair of the Arctic Council next year. As long as it isn't just a stunt appointment to further delay actually doing anything, that is.

In particular, the United States should continue to take action to protect U.S. borders and territory, as well as access to international waterways. The United States, working with Canada, has fairly robust northern missile defense, although it may be in a state of disrepair in places. This obviously is ripe for reinvestment, as are communications and surveillance capabilities in the region, which are sketchy at best. Those particular baseline investments may well be the best response to Russia's bold pronouncements.

As for territory and international waterways, in a pinch, the United States has the means (such as submarines) to protect those claims without a large icebreaker fleet. It would, of course, be a big help if the Senate would just ratify the Law of the Sea Convention, which a radical fringe of the Republican Party has been preventing with oddball proclamations about world government. That is rubbish, given the structure of the treaty, but the fringe's instransigence puts the United States at a disadvantage in working out conflicting Arctic claims.

One of the clearest and most present dangers in the Arctic today is actually just the uptick in maritime traffic, raising the risk of accidents. Given the long distances, harsh environment and lack of suitable equipment, this really is a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, that alone is a good argument for another heavy icebreaker, which will bring the total in the U.S. inventory to two. It's not as exciting as a trade war or an arms race, but it is a very good reason for regional powers to pool their resources and information.

Finally, and this gets us back to acknowledging why we have this challenge, the United States should set trip wires that trigger additional investment if the situation warrants it. The most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (PDF) projects that the Arctic will see "ice free" summers (not locked in with solid ice) by mid-century, which means there is time to make the appropriate investments. Or maybe not. In the last few years, the seasonal ice retreat has outstripped projections and it is possible the region could see "ice free" summers within a decade or two.

The question of whether the contest for the Arctic is predominantly economic or military might be somewhat moot in that scenario. Such a profound thaw likely would mean radically accelerating climate change, with pervasive effects on the worldwide availability of freshwater and the volatility of weather patterns. It is a mark of the absurdity of the U.S. polity that some business and government leaders tout the commercial opportunities and security risks of a fully navigable Arctic, without acknowledging what it really means.

They probably want to arm Santa Claus, too. If Putin doesn't get to him first.

This article originally appeared at New America. arcticocean_ruzanna_sstock.

Tweet


Tweet

How Paul Gagliardo taps the 'next big thing' at American Water

By Matthias Krause
Published October 13, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Water, Water Efficiency & Conservation, More... Water, Water Efficiency & Conservation, Water Use
How Paul Gagliardo taps the 'next big thing' at American Water

Hear Gagliardo explore Big Data and big water at VERGE SF, Oct. 27 to 30.

Who would predict that an environmentally conscious hippie would become a prominent name at America’s largest publicly traded water utility (or a self-proclaimed alien, for that matter)? Yet those who hear Paul Gagliardo talk about his work as manager of American Water’s Innovation Development Program can’t help but think that his has a lot of fun with it.

“I am a venture capitalist without the capital,” says Gagliardo. Basically, just like a VC, he shifts through pitches from people who have great ideas about how to make American Water’s business cleaner, more efficient and more successful. Those who make the cut get 15 minutes to state their case. Next, Gagliardo decides if the idea has any merit to be eligible for the next steps, potentially resulting in a strategic partnership.

He looks at new technologies, products and services, and vets them for their technical efficacy and value proposition. “If it’s only 5 percent better than what works now, it’s not that big a deal,” says Gagliardo, “if it’s 50 percent better, now we’re talking. And so that’s how we look at it.

Looking for the next big thing in the water space, he says, “My hit rate is 2 or 3 percent, which is a typical venture capitalist hit rate. You get to plow through a lot of stuff to see what works, how it applies to your business, where the big value proposition is, where the interest is in the company. And the business models of both companies have to align.”

After almost 25 years working on waste projects with the city of San Diego, Gagliardo called it quits. A stint at an engineering firm and with a real estate developer followed before he says his “perfect job” opened up in New Jersey at American Water, revenue $2.9 billion in 2013.

What would be really cool and is badly needed, he says, are water-borne drones with a very special skill set. The drone of his dreams would be very small, less than four inches, and could be deployed into a water pipeline through a fire hydrant. Untethered, it could be driven with a handheld device, going upstream or downstream. It would spot a leak in a pipeline, stop, hover, and then fix the leak with special glue that works even under water.

“That is one of my personal favorites,” says Gagliardo, “super glue could work when it’s fully wetted, in other words, when the pipe is full of water, but that’s certainly an issue. A bigger issue may be communicating with the drone, untethered.”

The potential would undoubtedly be huge since the largest expenditure that all water utilities are facing is fixing and replacing existing underground infrastructure, namely pipes.

“The lessons I learned a long time ago and have carried through over the years I worked for American Water is to get rid of the losers fast,” he says.

Gagliardo learned the business part of the job at a later stage of his career, yet his interest in the environment sprouted early. Growing up on Long Island, he often took a boat with his father onto the South Oyster Bay, where he would notice when the sewage plant wasn’t working very well or when residents’ septic tanks were leaking. For him, these problems were obvious, even though not many people in the 1950s and 1960s would acknowledge them.

“I spoke at the first Earth Day in 1980,” says Gagliardo, “so I was more an environmentalist than a hippie, I guess.” When it was time to pick his first job, he went for a poorly paying solar company instead of a well-paying oil firm.

Following his green-leaning beginnings, Gagliardo, an engineer by trade, took a job with the city of San Diego. Starting in public works construction, he moved on to hazardous waste remediation, because that became a “big thing” in the mid-1980s. He moved to the trash business in the early 1990s, when that became a “big thing”. “I don’t know if you noticed a pattern here,” Gagliardo says. “Everything is a big thing; that’s when I get involved.”

In the mid-1990s, when the drought hit California, he was shifted to a big toilet-to-tap program. The idea: Filter and purify sewage water to make it potable again. By 1999, all the major problems were solved and the program was ready to be implemented. However, the effort was killed by what Gagliardo describes as “political reasons.”

“I was always on the bleeding edge of things nobody else wanted to work on,” says Gagliardo, “I was kind of the guy that took all the heat, and if [the program] succeeded, everybody else took credit for it. If it failed, my joke was I would get my head cut off and they’d stick me in the corner.” That reminds him of the character Jack Jeebs in the movie “Men in Black”. Jeebs is alien living on earth in the disguise of a pawn shop owner. “And when they shoot his head off, it grows right back,” Gagliardo says.

“I have an unreasonable faith in myself, and I have thick skin,” he adds. “I really like being out on the edge. And seeing what’s over the edge and bringing the news back and being the advocate for it.”

As for all those water utility pipes? They were designed to last 50 years, but are 100 years old now, and by the time they’re all replaced, they’ll be 200 years old.

“We’ll never catch up; it costs too much money,” says Gagliardo. But with the right kind of drone it could be done. He sounds ready to tackle the problem, without fear of failure or losing his head.

Tweet


Tweet

Drucker Nonprofit Innovation Awards spotlight social ventures

By Susan Nickbarg
Published October 14, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Marketing & Communication, Nonprofit, More... Marketing & Communication, Nonprofit, Water
Drucker Nonprofit Innovation Awards spotlight social ventures

Innovation starts with being curious. Calling all the curious!

In its 23rd year, the prestigious Drucker Nonprofit Innovation Awards had 687 applications and 10 finalists, naming one winner last week: HopeLab, a nonprofit that develops games to improve human health and well being.

The finalists have helped to make society more sustainable by addressing pressing human health, education, environmental, and social challenges, such as the availability of safe water.

So often we default to a view of sustainability centered on carbon abatement, energy efficiency, renewable energy or recycling. The work of these nonprofits spotlights additional or new approaches based on shared value, which can provide ideas for unique product, program, or partnership concepts.

The awards, launched by Peter Drucker in 1991, are run by the Drucker Institute of Claremont Graduate University. Drucker, a man filled with curiosity, was a pioneer in management and social theory as well as a writer, consultant, advisor to heads of GE, IBM, the Red Cross, and as a social ecologist. The lessons and legacy of the late Drucker linger on and, in a sense, are renewed and remade each year with the awards.

“In the years ahead, America’s nonprofits will become even more important,” Drucker said in 2005. “As government retrenches, Americans will look increasingly to the nonprofits to tackle the problems of a fast-changing society. These challenges will demand innovation—in services, and in nonprofit management.”

The nonprofit sector is the third largest industry in the United States, with one nonprofit per 175 people.

The winner: HopeLab

HopeLab, founded by scientist and philanthropist Pam Omidyar (wife of eBay founder Pierre), grabbed the $100,000 Drucker prize made possible by the Coca-Cola Foundation. Through its Resilience Initiative, HopeLab addresses the problem of the lack of adherence to medical treatment by young cancer patients. It uses digital games and social technology to help people effectively tackle physical and psychological challenges and increase their self-efficacy.

HopeLab also met a key criterion of the Drucker Award: rigorously documenting measurable impact. To date, the "Re-Mission" video game had the largest randomized controlled study of a videogame intervention ever conducted, with results published in the journal Pediatrics. HopeLab has distributed more than 210,000 copies of the game in 81 countries. It claims a culture of curiosity, complete with its own handout, “Questions of a Curious Leader.”

Finalist: water.org

The finalist with the most intertwined social and environment impact was water.org. The needs are great. The World Economic Forum, in a 2011 report, named water scarcity as one of the top risks facing companies. In fact, 780 million people lack access to an improved water source, about one in nine people. Every minute a child dies from a water-related illness.

In response, Water.org's WaterCredit program helps people with limited access to safe water, sanitation, and financing in the developing world to obtain these necessities. WaterCredit connects financial institutions that can make needed loans available to those in need. Loans mostly go to helping pay connection fees for house water taps and to construct toilets. According to water.org, the loan repayment rate is 99 percent.

Water.org is the result of a 2009 merger between WaterPartners, co-founded by Gary White, and H2O Africa, co-founded by  actor Matt Damon. It operates in part with funding from the PepsiCo and Skoll Foundations.

It’s the first program of its kind, serving as a model in the sector. (Before WaterCredit, virtually all water and sanitation "access" programs were charity-driven). As of June, more than 329,443 WaterCredit loans were made. Water.org seeks to expand operations from nine countries into new markets and models, including new products and channels for deployment.

The potential of microfinance to democratize access to capital for water access and sanitation is paralleled by the potential of technology and social media to democratize access to information: Game changing.

Awards finalists highlights

The remaining Drucker finalists, selected for their social and environmental innovations are:

Back to innovation

Drucker’s definition of innovation is one I agree with: change that creates a new dimension of performance. Winners of his namesake awards must exemplify this. At the same time, they must create impact, especially in people’s lives. This makes innovation seem pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

That’s not a quick answer. Many of these nonprofits –and innovators – define and cast an innovative solution on a narrow area of a larger problem. Then, they create, validate, and distribute. To do so takes daring. On top of which, in order to develop and advance, it also requires management skills, capacity-building skills, and committed donors and staffers.

The real winners

The work of these nonprofits creates value for society and provides the underpinnings for business, people and communities to thrive. Innovators and change-makers like these appear to solve problems with ingenuity and little money, at least compared to the typically greater resources of business.

Taken all together it’s a pretty big win. The real winners are communities, individuals and the environment as a whole.

Valuable lessons

These are only a few examples of nonprofits effecting social and environmental change. They confirm that it’s possible to make things happen in areas that strike at the social and ecological commons. I would argue that “getting things done,” and well, is best achieved through sound marketing and management fundamentals.

When I make time after hours and on weekends to teach or train working adults marketing, corporate social responsibility and sustainability in university certificate and executive programs or in workshops, I emphasize the fundamentals. Alongside, I set up discussion and examples of innovation. It helps us to gain practice with thinking creatively in ways that lead us into a more sustainable future.

In a sense, the Drucker finalists mimic their new-product-developer counterparts within the private sector. They imagined a new way forward as architects of innovation and evolved new dimensions of positive social and environmental change.

As Peter Drucker said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Tweet


Tweet

Why Americans need to ante up for water

By Cynthia Barnett
Published October 10, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Water
Why Americans need to ante up for water

This summer, a 90-year-old water pipe burst under Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, sending a geyser 30 feet into the air and a flood of troubles over the UCLA campus. Raging water and mud trapped five people, swamped 1,000 cars and flooded five university buildings — blasting the doors off elevators and ruining the new wooden floor atop the Bruins’ storied basketball court.

As the campus dried out, though, Angelenos seemed less upset about the replaceable floorboards at Pauley Pavilion than they were over another loss: 20 million gallons of freshwater wasted in the middle of the worst drought in California history. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti took heat for his earlier campaign promise not to raise water rates in a city with a long backlog of repairs for aging water pipes.

Five days after the L.A. pipeline rupture, officials in Toledo, Ohio, declared the tap water for half a million people unsafe to drink, tainted by toxic algae spreading in the warm waters of Lake Erie. As residents of one of the most water-blessed regions in the world waited in lines to buy bottled water, an issue that had held little political urgency rose near the top of Ohio’s gubernatorial and legislative races. Former Toledo mayor Mike Bell held back an “I told you so” for council veterans who’d resisted rate increases to pay for upgrades to the city’s 73-year-old water-treatment plant.

[Learn more about water at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

In Los Angeles and Toledo and across the U.S., historic drought, water-quality threats heightened by warming waters and poorly maintained infrastructure are converging to draw public attention to the value of fresh, clean water to a degree not seen since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The problems are also laying bare the flawed way we pay for water — one that practically guarantees pipes will burst, farmers will use as much as they can and automatic sprinklers will whir over desiccated aquifers.

Squeezed by drought, U.S. consumers and western farmers have begun to pay more for water. But the increases do not come close to addressing the fundamental price paradox in a nation that uses more water than any other in the world while generally paying less for it. And some of the largest water users in the East, including agricultural, energy and mining companies, often pay nothing for water at all.

As a result, we’re subsidizing our most wasteful water use — while neglecting essentials such as keeping our water plants and pipes in good repair. “You can get to sustainability,” said David Zetland, a water economist and author of the book "Living with Water Scarcity." “But you can’t get there without putting a price on water.”

Cheap, abundant illusion

Water is the most essential utility delivered to us each day, meeting our drinking and sanitation needs and many others, from fire protection to irrigation. Incongruously, it is also the resource we value least. This is true generally for both the way we use water and the price we put on it.

On the global scale, Americans pay considerably less for water than people in most other developed nations. In the U.S., we pay less for water than for all other utilities. That remains true in these times of increasing water stress, said Janice Beecher, director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, whose data show the average four-person household spends about $50 a month for water, compared with closer to $150 for electricity and telephone services.

Water’s historically cheap price has turned the U.S. hydrologic cycle abjectly illogical. Pennies-per-gallon water makes it rational for homeowners to irrigate lawns to shades of Oz even during catastrophic droughts such as the one gripping California. On the industrial side, water laws that evolved to protect historic uses rather than the health of rivers and aquifers can give farmers financial incentive to use the most strained water sources for the least sustainable crops. In just one example, farmers near Yuma, Ariz. — the driest spot in the United States, with an average rainfall of 3 inches per year — use Colorado River water to grow thirsty alfalfa; under the law of the river, if they don’t use their allotment, they’ll lose their rights to it.

For both municipal waterworks and those that carry irrigation water to farms, the illusion of cheap, abundant water arose with the extensive federal subsidies of the mid-20th century. The Bureau of Reclamation built tens of billions of dollars worth of irrigation and supply projects that were supposed to have been reimbursed by beneficiaries; most were not repaid. After passage of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act in the 1970s, the feds doled out billions more dollars, this time to local communities to help upgrade water plants and pipes. Because ratepayers didn’t have to bear the costs, they didn’t balk at treating water destined for toilets and lawns to the highest drinking-water standards in the land.

Americans got used to paying little for a whole lot of pristine water. At the same time, many utilities delayed the long-term capital investments needed to maintain their pipes and plants. Water boards often are run by local elected officials, making decisions uneasily political. A board member with a three-year term might not vote for a water project that would pay off in year six. Officials who tried to raise rates risked being booted out of office. It was easier to hope federal subsidies would continue to flow. They did not. A Reagan Administration phase-out of water-infrastructure grants began 25 years ago. Over the past decade, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure funding has declined (with the exception of 2009, the year of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), and policy has shifted from grants to loans.

Unfortunately for water utilities, the timing coincided with the arrival of requirements to scrub dozens of newly regulated contaminants out of drinking water and record numbers of water mains and pipes bursting due to age and extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

Playing catch-up

In recent years, municipalities have begun raising rates to play catch-up. Since 2007, city water prices have risen at rates faster than the overall cost of living. Even so, the water sector reports it is not enough to pay for an estimated $1 trillion in anticipated repair costs for buried water pipes and growth-related infrastructure costs over the next 25 years.

When it comes to meeting needs associated with growth, many of the most promising solutions are found on the demand side. Americans still use more water per person than anywhere else in the world. But the U.S. today taps less water overall than it did 40 years ago despite population and economic growth, thanks to increased efficiency and awareness. From irrigation to manufacturing to toilet flushing, everything we do takes a lot less water than it used to.

Because utilities’ funding relies on revenue generated by water sales, efficiency has many utilities up a creek and churning blame. Earlier this fall, The Washington Post published a story, reprinted in newspapers around the nation, that blamed “federally mandated low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets” for water utilities’ financial woes. Conservation, the story said, was the cause of higher water rates and new fees.

The reality is just the opposite, said Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to sustainable water use. Everyone is beginning to pay more for water — but communities that conserve have lower long-term costs than those that don’t. In many cases, simply saving water can eliminate the need for costly new sources, Dickinson said. Growing, water-stressed cities including San Antonio and Perth, Australia, have saved ratepayers more than $1 billion in long-term capital costs by helping them slash water use in half. An analysis by the city of Westminster, Colo., found that reduced water use by citizens since 1980 saved residents and businesses 80 percent in tap fees and 91 percent in water rates, compared to the costs of acquiring the new water — close to $220 million on Colorado’s Front Range.

Efficiency will be the answer in many communities, although it cannot save the day in financially strapped cities that are losing population. Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy depends in part on its ability to sell water, but it has lost a quarter of its population over the past decade. Under pressure to reduce more than $90 million in bad debt, the Water and Sewerage Department in the spring began ordering shutoffs for customers who had fallen behind on their bills, prompting a global outcry and a warning from the United Nations.

Pictures of American families bathing and brushing teeth from five-gallon buckets hold a mirror to the nation’s hydro-illogical cycle: We subsidize water for the largest users in the United States, including agriculture and energy plants, yet we do not ensure a basic amount of water for the poorest citizens.

Agriculture at the table

Likewise, efficiency doesn’t solve water-quality issues such as Toledo’s, where ratepayers could be looking at $1 billion for a new drinking-water plant advanced enough to filter out the pollutants brewing in Lake Erie, their water source. Donald Moline, commissioner of Toledo’s public utilities department, said the cost issues are opening up much-needed dialogue with the agricultural community on its contribution to nonpoint-source pollution in Lake Erie. Fueled by farming, septic systems, urban runoff and other causes, nonpoint-source pollution is the largest contributor to water-quality problems in the United States. “It used to be we just weren’t allowed to get into the agricultural causes, but given the science of this, we can’t ignore that piece,” Moline said.

Indeed, concerns over both quality and quantity make agriculture an increasingly important part of the conversation about how we value and price water, said University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, author of the books "Water Follies" and "Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It."

Irrigation costs differ significantly for American farmers depending on whether they operate in the West or in the East. Reclamation Reform Acts in the 1980s and 90s began to shift the costs of major U.S. irrigation projects — which move river water around the West — from federal taxpayers to western farmers, whose bill depends on an arcane mix of water rights, allocations and contracts. But in the Colorado River basin, century-old water law can still create a tragedy of the commons in which farmers risk losing their allotment if they don’t use it. To solve this waste-encouraging dilemma, Glennon advocates a regulated system of markets and trading that would allow farmers to sell their water allotments to cities in times of drought or let a manufacturer pay to convert a large farm from flood to drip irrigation in exchange for the saved water.

Groundwater presents yet another paradox of price: Rising energy costs and declining water levels in troubled aquifers such as the Ogallala in the U.S. Great Plains have helped motivate many farmers to use less water. Agricultural and industrial water users pay for the wells, pumps and energy to draw water up from belowground, but in much of the country they still pay nothing for the water itself — which in some cases has provoked a race to the bottom that can dry up neighbors’ wells and even collapse the ground underfoot. In one hot spot in California’s San Joaquin Valley, U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that steady groundwater pumping in the nut-tree region south of Merced is sinking the ground nearly a foot a year, threatening infrastructure damage to local communities.

In August, the California legislature passed a package of laws to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time in state history. But the laws won’t slow damage to aquifers without meaningful limits on groundwater withdrawals or a charge for extraction, said Zetland, the water economist. Both are tough to pull off in politically regulated systems. Florida has required permits for large groundwater withdrawals since 1972. But governor-appointed water boards are reluctant to deny them, which has aggravated aquifer depletion, drying springs and coastal saltwater intrusion in some parts of the state. For decades, various Florida councils, committees and commissions have concluded that a small fee on groundwater withdrawals — between 1 and 20 cents for every 1,000 gallons — would reduce pumping and fund water-resource protection with “minimal adverse economic impacts” to industry and agriculture, according to one analysis by Chase Securities. But the agricultural lobby keeps the idea from getting very far in the state legislature.

New approaches

Going forward, water infrastructure, supply and quality challenges intensified by droughts, floods, temperature extremes and other influences of a changing climate will require new approaches not only to price, but also ethics: using less and polluting less, recycling more, and sharing costs among all users.

At the local utility level, higher prices and tiered price structures, in which households that use more pay more, are both working to encourage conservation. Utilities are also turning to new types of bonds to cover long-term projects, such as the 100-year “green bond” sold this summer by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority to finance environmentally friendly stormwater solutions.

Water-science and engineering groups such as the American Society of Civil Engineers make the case that the U.S. infrastructure crisis is severe enough that local communities cannot solve it alone; they suggest that federal investment is crucial to forestall significant costs in emergency repair and business losses.

Market fixes and agricultural partnerships are also part of the answer — especially if water law can evolve to do a better job of protecting the environment and local communities. Over the past two decades, drought-addled Australia has built the world’s largest water market, trading $2.5 billion per year and allowing the government to buy back overallocated rights and return water to nature. Price trends are up — both utility customers and agricultural users are paying more for water — while overall consumption is down. However, feared adverse social impacts may be coming to pass; researchers from Griffith University in Queensland (PDF) found governments trading “with little regard or knowledge of Indigenous interests, and many Indigenous people believe that contemporary water resource management is amplifying inequities.”

Human rights advocates often oppose water markets on the grounds that we should not commodify an essential human need. But U.S. water use and price have been so skewed for so long that market solutions may be the only politically feasible way to right them. If we are to subsidize anyone, perhaps it should be the poor: A sustenance level of water for those who need it — free or dirt cheap — and higher prices for those who want more and choose to pay. “I argue for a human right to water,” said Glennon. “If we can’t guarantee that in the richest country in the world, we are a sorry lot.”

Key tenets as U.S. water law and policy evolves, Glennon said, are making sure the environment and communities where water originates are not harmed. “It’s glacial, but we are finally seeing people do things differently,” he said. “Across California, you see block rates and municipalities paying people to rip out lawns. Price is going to give us the opportunity to do some things before crisis becomes a catastrophe.”

This story first appeared at ENSIA. Top image by  via Shutterstock.

Tweet


Tweet

How Ford aims to drive down its energy costs by $7 million a year

By Stephen Kennett
Published October 10, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Energy Efficiency
How Ford aims to drive down its energy costs by $7 million a year

Ford will invest more than $25 million in LED lighting at its global manufacturing facilities — cutting annual energy use equivalent to running over 6,000 average-sized homes a year.

The LED fittings will replace traditional high-intensity discharge and fluorescent lights, and are expected to reduce Ford’s energy use at manufacturing facilities by 56 million kilowatt-hours a year. This equates to 70 percent reduction in lighting energy consumption compared to traditional technologies and is expected to cut annual energy costs by around $7 million.

According to Ford the need for maintenance also will diminish, as LED lighting has a 15-year life expectancy and studies show LED light output remains steady at less than 1 percent degradation per year over the life of the equipment, while fluorescent and HID fixtures require re-lamping in as little as two years.

John Fleming, executive vice president, global manufacturing and labor affairs at Ford, said: “We are extremely pleased to install this leading-edge technology in our manufacturing facilities worldwide. This is a long term investment in our future that highlights our aggressive approach to lead in environmental improvements and achieve operating efficiencies.

In 2011, Ford embarked on a program to lower its energy use by 25 percent per vehicle produced at its facilities by 2016. The company is on its way toward meeting that goal, having achieved a 20 percent energy efficiency already, said George Andraos, director of energy and sustainability at Ford Land.

“Moving to LED gives us impressive efficiency improvement,” said Andraos. “Ford worked closely with its scientists and suppliers to investigate and closely follow the rapid development of LED lighting. In 2013, we selected Dialight, a leading LED industrial fixture manufacturer with a global footprint, to develop light fixtures that meet Ford’s global needs.”

The roll-out began at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant last month and will continue through the year at 17 other Ford manufacturing facilities across the globe, including Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Ky.; Livonia Transmission Plant in Livonia, Mich.; Dearborn Stamping Plant; Essex Engine in Windsor, Ont.; Dagenham Engine Plant in Dagenham, England; and Oakville Assembly in Oakville, Ont.

Recently, Ford also announced that it will work with DTE Energy to install Michigan’s largest solar carport at its Dearborn world headquarters. When completed in early 2015, the project is expected to generate 1.3 million kilowatt-hours a year.

This story originally appeared on 2degrees and is reprinted with permission. Top image of Ford auto plant in Russia by via Shutterstock

Tweet


Tweet

How the Northwest is working to mainstream green chemistry

By Ken Zarker
Published October 10, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Chemicals, Green Chemistry & Toxics, More... Chemicals, Green Chemistry & Toxics, Policy & Regulations
How the Northwest is working to mainstream green chemistry

Since the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, there has been a lack of national consensus on how to tackle hazardous chemicals. That’s meant that the states—individually and together—have taken the lead on solving global chemical policy issues like flame retardants, copper, phthalates and others.

It's particularly true here in the Pacific Northwest, where endangered salmon runs and declining populations of orca whales have given us very visible examples of the societal and environmental costs from poor policies. Washington’s state legislature has often been a frontrunner in pursuing chemical regulation – as have our nearby neighbors in Oregon and California. For many of us working to advance safer chemicals in the Northwest, it made sense for industry, researchers and educators to also take a collaborative regional approach to solving these problems.

Northwest Green Chemistry was created to connect those dots. It has tried to get ahead of regulation by working with industry to identify problems and putting those opportunities in front of researchers. As an independent nonprofit, Northwest Green Chemistry can bring the many stakeholders involved in chemicals management together on equal footing.

Often, those of us who work in hazardous materials management and sustainability will talk about “mainstreaming green chemistry” by getting companies to think about reducing or eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals when they are designing new products or processes. The ultimate mission of Northwest Green Chemistry is to ensure that, as people turn to green chemistry for answers, they’ll find the solutions and resources they need.

So far, this project is in its infancy as we talk with industry and academic groups to ensure that the opportunity we see can become a viable niche for us. We recently conducted a market survey to gather feedback on what services would be most valuable. We’re also working with academic institutions to sponsor trainings and, separately, developing curriculum for continuing education programs for professionals. We’ll take another step forward on Oct. 28 with a roundtable to gather national leaders and people from around our region.

Certainly, the talent and the drive are there – or, rather, they are here.

Northwest retailers are making strides on getting hazardous materials out of their supply chains. Manufacturers, such as the Outdoor Industry Association’s chemicals management module (CMM), are working together to share a common approach. COSMO BioRefinery is seeking to extract and sell cellulosic sugars and other biochemicals into an established market. There’s a tremendous amount of interest in reinvigorating the forest products industry via the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) that is harnessing biomass for aviation biofuels and specialty chemicals. Rivertop Renewables of Missoula, Mont. just launched a new green chemistry division this month to specifically produce ingredients for consumer-based products.   

An amazing group of supporters has stepped up to serve on the board for Northwest Green Chemistry, including representatives from our region’s leading universities, manufacturers, and nonprofit organizations. Our group includes the kind of big thinkers and innovators that you need to stitch together an ambitious project like this.

What’s possible? Established centers such as the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production show the impact a concerted effort can have. By bringing world-class thinking to bear on local problems, TURI has been able to have a national and global impact.

The Northwest has the same potential to lead the way, particularly on issues like alternatives to copper boat paint and eliminating PCBs in products .

The PCB issue hits especially close to home, since the toxic chemical builds up in the iconic orca whales that live in or visit Puget Sound. Although the chemical was outlawed years ago, polychlorinated biphenyls are present as a trace contaminant in many common pigments, particularly bright yellows and greens. Ultimately, this presents us with a grand challenge here in the Pacific Northwest to tackle toxics with green chemistry solutions. Northwest Green Chemistry is planning a technology symposium on green chemistry solutions to the PCB problem in 2015.

Our academic community is also stepping up. The Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (CSMC) at the University of Oregon is a focal point for producing the next generation of green chemists and sustainable chemistry. There’s also groundbreaking molecular toxicology research lead by Dr. Robert Tanguay at Oregon State University related to the health effects of chemical mixtures. His lab is using zebra fish to evaluate the toxicity of thousands of chemicals used in consumer products, which could lead to green chemistry innovation.

The University of Washington’s Professional and Continuing Education department will offer an online certificate program in green chemistry in 2015, giving professionals the opportunity to study the principles of green chemistry and then apply them in their workplaces.

As we lay the groundwork for our vision of green chemistry, we want it to reflect the needs and values of the Northwest. For example, the Washington Department of Ecology developed a new Alternatives Assessment Discussion Draft for use in Washington State based off the national guide created by the Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse. The Washington guide will establish a recommended set of criteria for small- to medium-sized businesses seeking to advance the transition to safer chemicals.  

Earlier this year in the Idaho state legislature, the Health and Welfare Committee introduced a Senate Concurrent Resolution that encourages companies to avoid substances likely to be harmful and to substitute for safer alternatives wherever feasible.

None of this is to suggest that there are easy green chemistry solutions to the challenges we face in the Pacific Northwest. But it does show that there are solutions out there, economic opportunities and increasing numbers of people dedicated to solving those problems.

If you’re interested in these issues in our region, we encourage you to collaborate with Northwest Green Chemistry to see where we may find shared interests, concerns, or opportunities. Bring us your green chemistry challenges and let’s tackle toxics together.

Top image of cylinders by via Shutterstock

Tweet
Also in The Right Chemistry Blog:


Syndicate content