energy efficiency

Is Our Green Build Compass Broken?

Efficiency is the greenest path for the built environment.

By Martin Brown

Sustainability: it’s good for the planet, good for business and should be good for the built environment. Yet, known as the 40% sector, the latter continues to be responsible for 40% of material production and use, of waste, of transportation, of energy use and for 40% of global CO2 emissions. 

We have many stunning green and sustainable buildings, but we also have a legacy of buildings that use and leak energy in frightening proportions, homes that keep families in fuel poverty and a wasteful industry struggling with, even ignoring, sustainability concepts.

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11:30 pm by csrwiretalkback[20 notes]

How to Kick the Coal Habit

Low interest loans for solar could break the country’s dependency on coal.

By Ezra Drissman

Getting off coal won’t be easy. Many states are dependent on coal-produced electricity, which means real problems in moving away from this dependency. Identifying the problems will clarify the solutions.

This is not meant to be an attack on carbon taxing, or a defense of the use of coal. But the question remains, how do we transition away from coal without severely crippling our economy?

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05:07 pm by csrwiretalkback[33 notes]

Top Seven Strategies to Cure Global Warming

It will take a coordinated effort of responsible innovation, smart policy and living well with less to fight the war against climate chaos.

Part Three of a three-part series from CSRwire, “Health Hazards of Climate Change.”

By CSRwire Talkback Managing Editor Francesca Rheannon

Climate change has been called the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Part One of this series covered some of the greatest hazards, including death and injury from extreme weather, hunger, spread of disease carrying pests, water-borne and heat-related illnesses, asthma and lack of medicines due to species loss.

Part Two added the unintended consequences of the rush to replace fossil fuels with technologies that carry high risks to health and safety, like nuclear power and corn ethanol. At the end of that post I asked, “So, what’s a climate hawk to do? We need to consider a sobering truth: there is no ‘free’ energy.”

Even after the disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi, many clean energy advocates are saying we need to continue to build nuclear power capacity. Marc Gunther bemoaned in a recent column:

The fires, explosions, radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will lead to greater scrutiny - and higher costs - for new nuclear plants. That will make it harder to develop low carbon energy to replace fossil fuels and avert potentially catastrophic climate change… Over the past few years…I’ve grown more…inclined to support nuclear power as a low-carbon solution, particularly given that all forms of energy production create risks and require tradeoffs. But the nuclear options look a whole lot less attractive today than it did a week ago. And that’s a problem.

But do we really need to make a Faustian bargain with nuclear energy? Do we need to accept almost any tradeoffs to tackle climate change - nuclear disasters, mass starvation (ethanol), widespread contamination of our water supplies with deadly chemicals (hydrofracking for gas) and even such potentially catastrophic “solutions” like geoengineering?

Only if we lack imagination, courage and the willingness to pull together for the common good. The more dangerous alternatives have, tragically, been the first we’ve turned to, because they have powerful private players behind them that think they will make big profits out of the climate emergency we all face. (Caveat Tepco.) The problem is how the emerging energy technologies market is structured, subordinating long-term common need to short-term private greed. But in the long-term, simple survival means the common interest is the salient one, whether you are the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland or a farmer in Bangladesh.

We don’t need to make Faustian bargains for our future. There are safer, more responsible strategies. Here are seven possibilities:

1. Smart Subsidies: The free market doesn’t reign in energy, nor should it. It can’t price carbon correctly because it leaves out the costs we all bear collectively, like environmental destruction and damage to our health. Since the free market can’t price carbon correctly by itself, government policies need to help the market by rewarding technologies that lessen the cost to society and our environment and punishing those that increase it: R&D subsidies to responsible new technology; clean energy and efficiency rebates to consumers; heavy taxes on profits of fossil fuel companies; and an end to subsidies and loan guarantees to dicey modalities like nuclear, ethanol and gas.

2. Smart Standards: We need to develop common sense standards for new technology so we don’t go halfway down the road to hell paved by our good intentions. The precautionary principle has been adopted by the EU to ensure new chemicals don’t get introduced into industrial processes before they are proven safe. It wouldn’t have taken all that much time for scientists and eco-economists to figure out that corn ethanol violates the precautionary principle. All the billions of dollars wasted on that dead end could have given us a jumpstart on safer forms of biofuels, from algae to switchgrass - and ones yet discovered.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has developed these “Bioenergy Principles" to guide R&D and investment in alternative fuels. A national renewable energy standard would also be smart, enabling innovative technologies to be developed with a national market in mind and improved predictability for investors.

3. Smart Efficiency: Some criticize efficiency efforts, pointing out that while vehicle efficiency has increased, overall vehicle emissions have stayed the same, because people are driving more. Increasing use as efficiency goes up is called the Jevons effect; it’s real, but doesn’t apply everywhere and can be minimized. For example, making buildings more energy efficient will decrease total emissions because people won’t jack up the heat or AC beyond the level of comfort. Engineering solutions like smart lighting that goes off when no one is in a room makes efficiency easy, as does architecture that increases available daylight.

Even transportation can sidestep the Jevons effect - if mass transit is made more attractive than driving, as it is in many European cities or the older, dense cities of the US Northeast. Make trains affordable, available, with good connections and clear and frequent scheduling and many will give up driving with relief. Smart traffic lights can decrease fuel use and ease driving for those who must use cars. Discouraging sprawl and encouraging urban density will help too.

4. Smart Transition: We need to get serious about shortening the transition time away from fossil fuels to clean, responsible renewables. But we can also lighten the impact of fossil fuel production by adopting more stringent standards for pollution control and efficiency. Cars - even gasoline engines - can be much more fuel-efficient than current standards mandate. Coal plants can scrub their emissions better than they do now. Companies will scream and moan about costs, but, as the case of vinyl chloride shows, when they finally have to knuckle down and do the right thing, they will probably find a healthier bottom line. And a government mandate would level the playing field between companies and encourage a smart approach. As the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out, “Addressing all four major pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and CO2) at once allows utilities to take an integrated approach to pollution control, reducing industry costs and greatly increasing the public health benefits.”

The war against climate chaos isn’t just about technology and efficiency. It’s also about hearts and minds.

5. Smart Patriotism: The war metaphor is apt: just like the Allies did during World War II, citizens need to pitch in together so our children will have a chance. We need to make it unpatriotic to waste energy; we need to engage communities with Clean Energy Challenges, tree planting and climate resilience projects, and community wind developments; the list is endless. We need to redefine security to conform more to the real threats - wars over climate and dwindling resources - so we can take money from bloated defense budgets and use it to change the climate calculus to lessen the threat.

6. Smart Engagement: Many European cities use their trash to generate energy, but I heard a radio report on WNYC in New York that discounted that possibility for the city - a city which is now burning tons of carbon (and cash) to truck its mountains of trash away. The report said residents would never accept trash-to-energy installations. Well, maybe community education and engagement, along with incentives in the form of lower energy costs - and disincentives to continue business as usual - might change some hearts and minds. It’s worth a try. We need to educate and engage citizens in being part of the solution, not the problem.

7. Smart Consumption: And that bring us to the final strategy. Let’s redefine the good life to value quality over quantity; the commons we share over the stuff we hoard (or heedlessly discard); the things that are free and priceless, like health, community, compassion, conviviality and a shared investment in our human future.

It’s up to us.

About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca is CSRwire's Talkback Managing Editor. An award-winning journalist, Francesca is co-founder of Sea Change Media. She produces the Sea Change Radio’s series, Back to The Future, and co-produces the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility’s podcast, The Arc of Change. Francesca’s work has appeared at SocialFunds.com, The CRO and E Magazine, and she is a contributing writer for CSRwire. Francesca hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, Writers Voice with Francesca Rheannon.

Talkback Readers: Can we fix the planet? What suggestions do you have on how to become more energy efficient? Share on Talkback!

12:11 am by csrwiretalkback[21 notes]

China Responds to Explosive Growth, Pollution and Water Scarcity in Latest Five-Year Plan

Is momentum for runaway development too powerful to restrain?

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider and Nadya Ivanova, Circle of Blue

In an era of economic turmoil that has produced massive unemployment, accelerated industrial decline and sowed fear and doubt across much of North America and Europe, China last week offered a much different lesson on growth and development.

In the latest draft of its new 12th Five-Year Plan to manage the world’s fastest growing industrial economy, China’s leadership called for restraining runaway growth that is raising incomes of more than 400 million people, but is also drawing China ever closer to a potentially calamitous confrontation over energy, water and the quality of the nation’s environment.

As part of its Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue this week describes in detail the 12th Five-Year Plan, which sets a new limit on energy consumption in order to spur efficiency and conservation measures. But the plan also envisions record high levels of water use, which is expected to rise to 620 billion cubic meters (163 trillion gallons) by 2015 — up from 599 billion cubic meters (158 trillion gallons) in 2010 — and as much as 670 billion cubic meters (177 trillion gallons) by the end of the decade. The restraints on coal production, which supplies 70 percent of the nation’s energy and is the largest industrial consumer of fresh water, will serve to keep water use from climbing even higher.

Largest and Fastest — Is Restraint Possible?

But it is not at all clear China’s provincial and industrial leaders — never mind the hundreds of millions of workers benefiting from modernization — will be eager to comply with the goals of the new development strategy.

During extensive reporting in December for the Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue found a nation that grumbles about pollution, inflation and corruption, but also is tremendously enthusiastic about modernization and the economic opportunities it has provided.

The restraints on economic growth described in the 12th Five-Year Plan come in the midst of a massive and politically popular economic transition that is rapidly converting China’s economy from its previous focus on export-related revenue to one devoted to building domestic markets.

Just to name a few, China now has either the fastest growing or largest markets in the world for:

  • Cars
  • Steel
  • Cement
  • Glass
  • Residential housing
  • Rail construction
  • Fossil fuel energy
  • Highway development
  • Power plant construction
  • Grain production

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Photo: © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

Talkback Readers: Will momentum for runaway development be too powerful to restrain? Share your thoughts on Talkback!

04:31 pm by csrwiretalkback[5 notes]

Needed: A Tidal Wave Of Innovation

Japan’s tragedy points the way to a safer future – if we learn its lesson.

By Carl Safina

Japan’s tsunami is a horrific tragedy of staggering human and economic proportions. It is also as natural a disaster as humanity can still suffer. Its cause is shifting plates in Earth’s crust. It has nothing to do with greenhouse gases or global warming, which now casts suspicion on whether weather-related disasters are entirely natural or partially human-caused (Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, or the more recent droughts that have helped push up food prices, may reflect humanly influenced atmospheric change).

Natural or not, the tsunami will, however, force reevaluation of energy options that have implications for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Atomic energy is probably the most scaled-up, ready-to-go alternative to conventional combustion-based technologies requiring petroleum or coal.

That’s old news, of course. And that’s the problem.

Decades after we saw the need for alternative fuels – we have scant options. More than anywhere else, Japan’s engineers build with earthquakes in mind. In the case of the earthquake-induced problems at its nuclear reactors, no one is really at fault. Sometimes someone is at fault, as with last year’s Gulf of Mexico BP oil well blowout. In the latter case, fault lies with the bad judgment of the people involved. In Japan’s case, the fault is a geological one.

What these two very different circumstances – faultiness and faultlessness – have in common is: accidents happen.

So for me the way I’ve been thinking of it is that among the many reasons we need to transition to a clean-energy economy is the magnitude of inherent risks. Not the frequency of accidents, which are rather rare, but the severity of inevitable accidents.

The nuclear-energy risks are quite dangerous. As are the increasing risks from oil as we go to deeper waters where controlling blowouts is extremely difficult and takes months. Fracking for natural gas has been called safe, but its safety is increasingly being challenged by indications that it can pollute drinking water supplies, including New York City’s. Coal is putting mercury in fish, largely changing the heat balance of the planet and acidifying the ocean.

Clean energies like sunlight, tides, heat from the Earth, wind and algae actually power the whole planet. But also, they can’t explode, can’t be spilled and can’t be used by terrorists. They cannot be “unleashed” by earthquakes.

Those are some of the reasons we need to transition to a clean-energy economy. What are the other reasons? You don’t have to ask; you already know. Here are a few:

  • Petro-dictators. Imagine how sweet it would be if we no longer threw cash to corporate giants and terrorists each time we filled our car or our home’s burner went on.
  • Price, reliability and self-sustainability. Right now we’re subject to oil shocks caused by political events and foreign price-fixing. When we build the smart grid of the future, it can distribute electricity generated by any means, whether it’s coal or free, clean energy from wind and sunlight and geo-thermal sources.
  • Price competition between biomass fuel and food made from the same crops. We can go back to eating food, rather than burning it. The hungry and poor will thankful.
  • Peak oil. It won’t last forever. Can we finally start planning for the inevitable?
  • Despoliation. Coal companies are still blowing up mountains in a country where children are taught to sing “America The Beautiful.”
  • Other pollution. Fossil fuels, wood and other biomass create smog, lung and breathing problems. Nuclear energy creates dangerous waste.
  • Jobs. American jobs. Sure other people benefit from getting jobs formerly held by Americans. But why are we doing everything we can to build the economy of the biggest, most anti-democratic, most oppressive government in the world? Why do we tolerate it?
  • Leadership. Who builds the energy future will own the future and will sell it to the world. Will it be the United States or China? China knows its answer. We don’t. While China dreams big, America sleepwalks.

So as the horrors in Japan prompt a global reevaluation of the risks of nuclear energy, let’s really work toward a safer energy future.

About Carl Safina

Carl Safina is a MacArthur fellow, Pew fellow, and Guggenheim fellow, he is adjunct professor at Stony Brook University and president of Blue Ocean Institute. His books include Song for the Blue Ocean, The View From Lazy Point and A Sea in Flames, his book abut the 2010 Gulf blowout, among others. He is host of Saving the Ocean on PBS television. www.blueocean.org | www.carlsafina.org 

Talkback Readers: What are your thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of promoting truly clean energy? Share your thoughts on innovation with Talkback!

03:21 pm by csrwiretalkback[16 notes]

Efficiency: Bedrock of the Green Transition

Research shows, efficiency investments pay back fast.

By Rosalinda Sanquiche

The Green Transition Scoreboard® (GTS) tracks private sector investments since 2007 in green technologies, including investments in Efficiency and Green Construction. Efficiency in use of energy and materials is basic, often simple to implement and offers the fastest, best bang for investments.

Of the $2 trillion tracked by the GTS, only $282 billion has gone to Efficiency and Green Construction, just over 14 percent, making this huge potential the most challenging to quantify. The McKinsey & Company report, Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the US Economy, estimates efficiency investments can yield $520 billion in returns in the USA alone by 2020. According to The Energy Report: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 by WWF and ECOFYS, maximum energy efficiency will become central to all economic activity, saving nearly £4 trillion a year through reduced costs by 2050.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers confirms efficiency investments’ rapid payback periods from 12-24 months – compared to renewables payback of 7-10 years. Bloomberg Businessweek reports expected revenues for energy efficiency to expand by 13% annually through 2020.

A flood of reports from 2010 and early 2011 agree efficiency is the critical measure countries can take toward energy independence, supporting business and managing climate change: “Energy Efficiency Plan 2011,” European Commission; “A New Growth Path for Europe,” German Federal Ministry for the Environment; “Sizing the Climate Economy,” HSBC; “Energy Efficiency: The Untapped Business Opportunity,” Carbon Connect; Survey on Economic Recovery and Sustainability, SustainAbility and Globescan.

GTS defines efficiency to include hybrid vehicles and other products requiring less energy to run. Green Construction is defined as built to LEED standards or incorporating multiple green building elements above that of the standard used at the time of original construction. Figures include green engineering and design services; lighting, HVAC and water heating equipment; and materials such as insulation and windows. Since public-sector information is not recorded, the GTS total includes some government buildings – appropriate, given the Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth Team, UK Department for Business, advises governments must take leadership to overcome the ubiquitous perception that “only regulation will create demand for energy efficient retrofit.”

Private sector investing is doing an admirable job of driving the transition, despite low government support. The GTS subtracted figures for government buildings, energy generation equipment and energy monitoring services and hardware and still found billions of dollars invested in efficiency. 

Greater efficiency leads toward greater employment. Compared to other options for improving energy performance of buildings, the European Commission found implementing low or zero energy/carbon buildings/passive house requirements gave the largest energy and carbon savings and resulted in the largest number of jobs created.

Even the US Department of Defense recognizes benefits of efficiency, establishing a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan that incorporates improving energy efficiency, acknowledging energy independence as a security issue. Similar plans have been issued from the US White House, Department of Transportation and other government entities, all of which can follow private sector initiatives solidly leading the way.

About Rosalinda Sanquiche

Rosalinda Sanquiche, MA, is Executive Director of Ethical Markets Media and principal author of the Green Transition Scoreboard® Report. Formerly, she worked for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, DC, and for the North Florida Land Trust. She has written on the construction industry and environment for Builder/Architect and various outlets and has served on the advisory board of the EthicMark® Award for advertising. Rosalinda currently serves as treasurer for the Northeast Florida Green Chamber and is an advisor to Collins Capital Management.

About the Green Transition

“Efficiency: Bedrock of the Green Transition” is part two of five exploring the sectors driving the Green Transition. Stay tuned for Green Transition Talkback posts on Corporate R&D, the Renewables sector and Consumer Demand, contributed by members of the Green Transition Scoreboard® research team. For part one in the series, read Hazel Henderson’s “Good News on the Green Transition.” For more information, please view the associated press release.

Talkback Readers: What investments in efficiency has your firm made or is planning to make? Share your experience on Talkback!

03:11 pm by csrwiretalkback[56 notes]



CSRwire is the leading source of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability news, reports, events and information.

CSRwire Talkback is hosted by Francesca Rheannon, Managing Editor, and Sarah Peyok, Director of Editorial.


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