ICYMI: Some good climate news, competition for home energy data & more

In Case You Missed It

ICYMI: Some good climate news, competition for home energy data & more

ICYMI -- "In Case You Missed It" -- is a regular Friday feature recapping the news of the week.

Dear readers: There are weeks when this is the greatest gig in the sustainability business. I get to survey, from a 10,000-foot view, all the amazing ideas and efforts that are helping to get the world to a low-carbon economy -- and sum them up for you. These efforts span the realm of the possible, from policy to technology to sociology to plain old common sense, and while it's often a gloomy view, there are times when it's just inspiring.

This is one of those weeks. Let's dig in!

• Energy policy is complex, especially when you start digging into the competing interests trying to shore up every kind of energy source imaginable, from coal to natural gas to biofuels to wind power. Writing in Ensia, our good friend Marc Gunther has a simple, elegant take on a solution:

Let’s phase out U.S. government subsidies for all energy, and let oil, natural gas, coal, solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal and efficiency compete. Let’s simultaneously enact a carbon tax on greenhouse-gas emissions to remedy a glaring market failure: the fact that the environmental costs of burning fossil fuels are not reflected in their price. With the risks of catastrophic climate change growing, we can no longer allow Earth’s atmosphere to be used as a cost-free dumping ground. A carbon tax is an efficient and effective way to curb those risks.

• We're finally making progress on global climate strategies. This may end up being the best news of the decade: At climate talks in Bonn, Germany, U.S. envoy Todd Stern proposed letting individual countries set their own climate targets and then using peer pressure to drive reductions. The shift would lift the pressure for the increasingly bleak annual COP meetings to come up with a global consensus that would save future generations of humans from a devastated world.

• Helping cities adapt to climate change: The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group this week unveiled its latest effort to help address the risks from climate change with the announcement of a new risk-assessment framework that will help city leaders accurately gauge and prepare for the climate risks they face in the short- and long-term.

• The U.K.-based supermarket Waitrose will cut its packaging in half by 2016 as part of a series of 12 new sustainability commitments that also include energy-efficiency upgrades to all stores, selling only certified sustainable fish and supporting local farmers.

• Sprint cuts packaging impacts: Speaking of packaging commitments, telecom giant Sprint this week published a white paper outlining the results of a lifecycle analysis of its products over the last three years that finds a 55 percent reduction in its packaging environmental impacts between 2009 and 2012.

• Johnson Controls takes home an Eddy: In recognition of the work the company is doing to promote next-generation sustainable buildings, Johnson Controls this week won an Edison Award (people call them the Eddy's, right?) for its partnership with the University of Wisconsin on the Energy Advancement Research Lab, which is working to develop and commercialize advanced energy-storage technologies.

• Competition for the big home-energy data market: GigaOM's Katie Fehrenbacher has an interesting look at how Nest and Opower -- two of the most interesting non-utility energy companies out there -- have quietly morphed into competitors, prompted by Nest's recent acquisition of energy services startup MyEnergy.

• How much heft does the chemical industry's safety code have? The American Chemistry Council this week unveiled a new safety code, one that's mandatory for all ACC members. The code includes 11 safe-chemical practices that seek to bring "healthier, safer and more sustainable" chemicals to market. That's a promising goal, but with some vague language in the steps -- such as "Companies make product safety and stewardship information publicly available to enhance public knowledge of and confidence in the safe use of chemical products, while protecting confidential business information" (emphasis mine) -- well, I'm just going to wait to see what EDF's Richard Denison has to say about it.

• Composting hits the mainstream. In closing, it is now official: Composting has become mainstream, with the release of new Ziploc-brand compostable bags by SC Johnson. Now if only Waste Management would make it easier for apartment buildings to compost, I could stop sneaking across the street in the dead of night to dump our food waste...

Nest thermometer photo courtesy of Nest.