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The Opportunity: Green Business

Business, green business, sustainability, health and economic security have always been connected, but no more so than now after four years of neglect and ignorance by the Trump Administration. Mix in a raging pandemic, a new administration committed to tackling climate change, and it might just be that the path forward is in sight.

“There never has been a moment as opportune as this one to be talking about the intersection of business and sustainability,” writes Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, in the latest edition of the State of Green Business. The report is now in its 14th year.

“Justice,” he continues, is the new mantra governing a host of issues–social, racial, climate, economic, environmental and others. “During 2020, amid the economic, social, political and public health crises we encountered; corporate sustainability continued to move forward.” Because of Covid-19 and “the other challenges we’ve encountered, the idea of rapid, large-scale global action now seems more than a mere pipe dream,” says Makower.

Factoids from the report:

  • According to the U.S. SIF Foundation’s 2020 biennial “Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends,” sustainable investing assets now total $17.1 trillion, or 33 percent of the $51.4 trillion in total U.S. assets under professional money management — a 42 percent jump from 2018
  • As of October 2020, more than 1,500 organizations had expressed their support for the Taskforce on Climate related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), an increase of over 85 percent since June 2020
  • Given the above, it was not surprising to see an uptick in corporate ambition on sustainability issues. “Net zero” became a key commitment during 2020 — goals that aim to eliminate, at least on paper, a company’s greenhouse gas emissions, water extractions, fossil fuel use or deforestation activities by a given date
  • What will it take for companies to dramatically step up their ambition and actions? That is a defining question of the decade. No doubt the answer lies in a combination of investor pressure, technological innovation, consumption shifts, governmental pressure, new circular business models that reward resource efficiency — and more than a little grit and determination
  • Corporate sustainability efforts are continuing apace, even amid economic uncertainty and a global pandemic that, as of this writing, is far from contained. It wasn’t very many years ago that the future of corporate sustainability was uncertain even during good times

10 Subject-matter trends discussed in the 135-page report:

  1. Ocean-Based Sequestration Heats Up
  2. The ‘S’ in ESG Gains Currency
  3. Community Investments Pay Dividends
  4. Aquaculture Becomes a Net-Positive
  5. Industrial Decarbonization Picks Up Steam
  6. Nature Takes Root on the Balance Sheet
  7. Sustainable Mobility Drives the Newest Perk
  8. Aviation Plots a Sustainable Course
  9. The Circular Economy Shows its Human Side
  10. Corporate Advocacy Gets Louder

The “State of Green Business” is always a valuable resource, now more than ever.

Further reading:

“A New Day for the Climate,” New Yorker, by Elizabeth Kolbert January 31, 2021

It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s sweeping climate directives can make a meaningful difference, but a critical threshold has been crossed.

Beam it down! Solar farms in space!

London, United Kingdom by NASA via Flickr CC

Euronews is reporting that giant solar farms orbiting the planet may someday power Europe. The European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled a plan to harvest the sun’s energy in space and beam it back down to Earth.

It’s an idea that has been around for a while, and the subject of science fiction stories, but now it is closer to science fact. The technology is still in the preliminary testing phase, but the goal is the construction of a 2-kilometer (1.2 mile) long solar space farm, generating as much energy as a nuclear power plant, according to Hannah Brown with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The farm would orbit about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth.

“[Such a project] would ensure that Europe becomes a key player– and potentially leader – in the international race towards scalable clean energy solutions for mitigating climate change,” the ESA said in a statement.

Solar power is a great source of clean energy, but it’s held back by some limitations. For example, solar panels can only harness power in the daytime, and even then, much of the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere on its journey to the ground. But in space, the sun’s beams are around ten times as intense as they are on Earth.

The ESA has partnered with Airbus to develop ‘wireless power transmission’ to capture this 24-hour source of electricity and beam it down to us. The technology is based on the transmission used by TV and communication satellites every day, Airbus engineer Nicolas Schneider explained: “We are not very far from a 4G antenna, except that what we want is not to radiate in all directions, we want to be very precise like a laser, in fact. It’s a wave that can be directed to this receiving antenna which will then transform this wave into electricity.”

The problem is one of scale. The satellite would be massive, and so difficult to launch and build. But doable.

With mega-billionaires so interested in playing around in space, maybe they should spend a few billion for this and become energy czars.

Let’s do this!

Dueling for compliant fuel

Bunkering by Cycling Man via Flickr

Container shipping operators are scrambling to come into compliance with United Nations decarbonization rules, according to IHS Markit.

In 1973, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) expanded the powers of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to regulate the environmental impacts of shipping. A MARPOL update in 2008 called for a reduction of the maximum sulfur content in marine bunker fuel from 3.50% to 0.50% in 2020, unless a supply study would conclude insufficient availability of compliance fuels and a delay to 2025 deemed necessary. But, in October 2016, the IMO came to a broad agreement to implement the global reduction in the sulfur content of marine bunker fuel from January 1, 2020.

IHS Markit estimates that about 55,000 ships of a total fleet of about 110,000 vessels burn heavy fuel oil bunkers and that roughly 30,000 ships account for about 80% of global fuel oil bunker use.

Compliant fuel means seven and eight-tenths (7.8) pounds per square inch (psi) low Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) gasoline, federal reformulated gasoline, or ethanol-blended low RVP gasoline as described in section 5 of the IMO rule.

Operators must therefore compete to secure shore-side production of eco fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia, and methanol with other energy-hungry industries. The current global supply of hydrogen, ammonia and methanol would barely cover the needs of the shipping industry, even without competition from other critical sectors such as manufacturing, oil refining, and the production of fertilizers, said the Shipping Gazette.

The shipping industry uses more than 300 million tons of fossil fuels every year, about five percent of global oil production, and there is still no clear pathway toward replacing that volume with renewable fuels.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), predicts ammonia will be the dominant alternative fuel for shipping by 2050.

Jonah Sweeney, a European marine fuels analyst at oil price reporting agency Argus, told the IMO that alternative fuels such as ammonia and methanol produced less energy than very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO). One ton of VLSFO produces 2.2 times more heat content than one ton of ammonia and 2.1 times more than methanol.

“It is important when looking at alternative fuel options to compare like for like in terms of energy output, otherwise if you take the outright price of methanol, for example, you will have a substantial discount to VLSFO, but you will need about twice as much,” Sweeney said, quoted in the Shipping Gazette.

This is a big problem, because about 93 percent of the global companies that have set net-zero goals are on course to fall short of their carbon emissions targets, according to Triplepundit.

Green Corridors on the deep blue sea

On the shipping lane by Kari Nousianien via Flickr CC

The ports of Gothenburg and Rotterdam pledged to establish a Green Corridor between the two cities, which will put a framework in place for collaboration on alternative fuels and reducing carbon emissions.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in the presence of the Swedish and Dutch royal families. It is intended that the corridor will become part of the European Green Corridors Network, set up in March 2022 by the Maersk McKinney Moller Centre for Zero-Carbon Shipping.

According to a recent report from McKinsey, zero-emission fuels and vessels will need to be deployed over the next decade to achieve full decarbonization of the shipping sector by 2050. “This ambitious goal could be catalyzed by green corridors.”

The zero-emission goal was established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which has mandated emission reductions of 50 percent for all vessels by 2050. (Annex 11 Resolution MEPC.304(72) adopted April 13, 2018, Initial IMO strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships, International Maritime Organization, imo.org.) A number of countries—including Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have declared a target for net-zero shipping emissions in the same time frame.

The U.S. Department of State released a “Green Shipping Corridors Framework” fact sheet in April that states: “Green shipping corridors can spur early and rapid adoption of fuels and technologies that, on a lifecycle basis, deliver low- and zero-emissions across the maritime sector, placing the sector on a pathway to full decarbonization. The United States envisions green shipping corridors as maritime routes that showcase low- and zero-emission lifecycle fuels and technologies with the ambition to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions across all aspects of the corridor in support of sector-wide decarbonization no later than 2050. There are multiple pathways through which a fully decarbonized corridor can be achieved; this green shipping corridors framework therefore provides maritime stakeholders the flexibility to choose the path that best suits their needs.”

It seems that we are in the early stages of actually establishing green corridors in the maritime/port sector, which is why the Rotterdam-Gothenburg agreement is significant. Allard Castelein, Chief Executive of the Port of Rotterdam said: “This Green Corridor initiative is part of our ongoing efforts to bring together parties across the supply chain to help realize more sustainable shipping in support of the Paris Agreement.” And Elvir Dzanic, Chief Executive of the Gothenburg Port Authority added: “We can now present a more distinct path towards the decarbonization of shipping.”

The McKinsey report asserted: “Finding industry-wide solutions is challenging, given the varied and complex nature of the sector. One way to accelerate decarbonization is to implement ‘green corridors’: specific trade routes between major port hubs where zero-emission solutions are supported. A new report, The next wave: Green corridors, produced by the Getting to Zero Coalition in collaboration with the Global Maritime Forum, Mission Possible Partnership, and Energy Transitions Commission, with analytical support from McKinsey, probes the feasibility of two such selected corridors,” the Australia-Japan iron-ore route and the Asia-Europe container route.

The results of this analysis are “encouraging” but there is still a long navigation ahead.

Port Offers Solar Power Project Funding

RMS Queen Mary/Long Beach, CA by Jason Mrchina via Flikr CC

The Port of Long Beach is accepting “concept paper” proposals for solar power generation projects that qualify for funding under the port’s Community Grants Program.

The Community Grants Program encompasses more than $46 million to fund projects that help those in the community who are most vulnerable to port-related impacts and to reduce greenhouse gases. These projects include expanding asthma services, controlling stormwater runoff through the building of permeable parking lots, and creating open space buffers between port operations and communities, to name a few. Combined with a previous program started in 2009, the Port of Long Beach has set aside more than $65 million, making it the largest voluntary port mitigation initiative in the country. To date, $36.5 million has been committed.

Projects that receive grants will serve people most sensitive to port impacts, including seniors, pregnant women, children, and those with asthma or chronic illnesses. Public and private agencies are eligible to apply, however, home improvements are not eligible. To view the program’s relevant Facilities Improvements guidelines and the pre-solicitation workshop, go to www.polb.com/grantopportunities.

Applicants are required to describe proposed projects at a high leve, the port says,l and program staff will determine project and applicant eligibility. Concept papers must be submitted online and are due by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23.

The Port of Long Beach is a gateway for the trans-Pacific trade. With 175 shipping lines connecting Long Beach to 217 seaports, the Long Beach handles $200 billion in trade annually, supporting more than 575,000 Southern California jobs.

The grant program contact is Jennifer Williams, Environmental Specialist Associate, at (562) 283-7133, grants@polb.com

Preserve biodiversity through sustainable forest management

deforested by naqi via Flickr CC

Deforestation is the greatest threat to valuable biodiversity, with around 10 million hectares lost to deforestation each year, mainly for agricultural expansion, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The key to thwarting deforestation is sustainable forest management, the report says. “Protecting the animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms that thrive in forests must become a fundamental goal of sustainable forest management worldwide.”

The world’s forests provide habitats for about 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species and 68 percent of mammal species. In addition, about 60 percent of all vascular plants occur in tropical forests. The importance of sustainable forest management has long been recognized, but more action in a concerted manner is needed.

“The conservation of the world’s biodiversity is utterly dependent on the way in which we interact with and use the world’s forests,” said Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director of FAO’s Forestry Division, of the report, Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Forestry.  The report was released at the 8th World Forest Week on the sidelines of the 26th Session of FAO’s Committee on Forestry.

The report assesses tools and methods of ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is integrated into forest policy, strategy and management. Through a series of case studies from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Finland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and the United Kingdom it explores lessons learned and identifies good practices.

It recommends actions that governments and development partners can take “to facilitate the mainstreaming of biodiversity in forest management”:

  • Halting and reversing deforestation
  • Combating illegal and unregulated forest activities
  • Recognizing the forest tenure of Indigenous Peoples and local communities
  • Preventing the conversion of natural forests into monospecific forest plantations
  • Ensuring the sustainable management of harvested species
  • Managing and controlling invasive and overabundant species
  • Leveraging global momentum on restoration to enhance biodiversity conservation
  • Adopting a multisectoral perspective
  • Providing economic incentives
  • Facilitating market-based instruments
  • Investing in knowledge and capacity development

“We hope that the wealth of information and recommendations made in this study will inspire action from those involved in forest management and conservation,” said FAO Forestry Officer Kenichi Shono.

The role of forests in maintaining biodiversity is explicitly recognized by the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017–2030 and in 2019, FAO adopted the Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across Agricultural Sectors.

Lots of hope, lots of studies: time for action.

All-electric cargo plane flies for DHL

The first fully electric commuter/cargo plane ‘Alice’ by Eviation Aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight at Moses Lake, Washington, USA. Credit: DHL

Alice in Cloudland? DHL successfully launched the first all-electric cargo plane, Alice, late last month.

The maiden flight was completed at Moses Lake, WA’s Grant County International Airport (MWH), It flew for eight minutes and reached an altitude of 3,500 feet. The Seattle-based manufacturer, Eviation, is the builder.

“Completing its maiden flight confirms our belief that the era of sustainable aviation is here. With our order of 12 Alice e-cargo planes, we are investing towards our overall goal of net-zero emissions logistics,” said John Pearson, CEO DHL Express, who was quoted in the article.

https://www.dpdhl.com/en/media-relations/media-center/tv-footage/first-ever-fully-electric-plane-alice.html

A single pilot can fly the plane and it will carry 1,200 kilograms (2,600 lbs.). It will require 30 minutes or less to charge per flight hour and have a maximum range of up to 815 kilometers (440 nautical miles).

DHL says Alice will operate in all environments currently serviced by piston and turbine aircraft. Alice’s advanced electric motors have fewer moving parts to increase reliability and reduce maintenance costs. Its operating software constantly monitors flight performance to ensure optimal efficiency.

The aircraft is ideal for feeder routes and requires less investment in station infrastructure, DHL says. The Alice can be charged while loading and unloading operations occur, ensuring quick turnaround times that maintain DHL Express’ tight schedules. Eviation says Alice  can be configured for cargo or passenger use.

Pearson noted that Alice’s range and capacity “makes it a unique sustainable solution for our global aviation network.” It supports DHL’s goal to make a “substantial contribution” in reducing its carbon footprint and ultimately, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

FAO on food loss and waste

Fresh mangoes, like many other fruits, spoil rapidly because of their high moisture content and delicate nature. © FAO/Miguel Schincariol.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations asserts that minimizing food loss “is easier than you think” by adopting simple solutions that can help “break the vicious cycle of food loss and climate change.”

The FAO article, released in connection with the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2022, notes that each year, approximately 14 percent of the food we produce is lost between when it is harvested and before it reaches the shops. A further 17 percent of our food ends up being wasted by retailers and consumers.”

FAO continues: “Food loss and waste is also a major contributor to the climate crisis, accounting for up to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. In some countries, the food supply chain is already on course to overtake farming and land use as the largest contributor to GHGs emissions, adding to an unstable climate and extreme weather events such as droughts and flooding.”

Alarming numbers, to be sure, but simple solutions? It seems that nothing is ever simple anymore.  

The UN organization has implemented several projects designed to reduce food loss and make agriculture systems more efficient. The Asia region is showing some promising results. Consider the mango.

Like other fruits, fresh mangoes spoil rapidly because of their high moisture content and delicate nature. If not harvested at the correct stage of maturity, and if not handled properly throughout the distribution chain, mangoes suffer both in terms of quality and quantity, resulting in losses and reduced income for all involved in their production and post-harvest handling. Furthermore, improper handling and infestations shorten their shelf-life, which in turn limits their sales, resulting in economic losses.

In southern Asia, for example, FAO experts found that local farmers often have scarce knowledge of how to handle fruit and vegetables after the harvest and also lack the resources to address quality issues in the supply chain. This can result in more than half of vegetable harvests being lost due to diseases, pest infestations, improper harvesting techniques, careless handling, poor packaging, and transport conditions.

That does not sound very simple, but apparently, training is a key factor. “When FAO trained the farmers to apply good post-harvest management practices and use reusable plastic crates instead of single-use mesh sacks to transport their produce, the switch produced dramatic improvements.”

Using plastic crates for bulk packaging reduced losses to a minimum during transportation. Also, “shelf lives in shops and markets improved significantly for the mangoes that underwent a hot-water treatment that controls post-harvest diseases. New harvesting tools and techniques, such as improved picking poles or trimming the fruit stem with scissors and gloves rather than pulling them off by hand, reduced mechanical injury to the fruit, while the trimming of the stems reduced latex staining of the fruit when packed in the crates, making them more attractive in shops and markets.” 

Improvements in the post-harvest handling practices, together with the hot water treatment, resulted in better quality mangoes having a longer shelf life in retail, with a 70 – 80 percent reduction in the number of mangoes wasted due to decay over a period of five days.

FAO is promoting its findings and practices around the world. About 5 000 smallholders across Asia have been trained in fresh fruit and vegetable production and marketing.

 The FAO conclusion? “With the rise of food prices, the growing impact of climate change, and the persistence of global hunger, there is no excuse for food loss and waste at any level.”

It does sound simple, but simple is often complicated.

The story and photos can be found here:  https://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1605721/

Dealing with air pollution controls

Pollution by Tony Webster via Flickr CC

A new eHandbook from Environment+Energy Leader, sponsored by Anguil Environmental Systems, outlines current trends in air pollution controls and what should be considered when choosing emission control technologies.

That is of course if energy companies insist on emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) rather than converting their plants to renewable energy sourcing. But oh well, the climate crisis must continue, and fewer pollutants might have to do.

The handbook notes that in trying to understand how best to mitigate VOCs and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), industrial companies can find “compliance downright baffling.”

“Significant shifts in the industrial landscape and in the economy at large, along with constant regulatory changes, contribute to the confusion.

 “There are many factors impacting the clean air technology industry, including regulation, public policy, and considerations such as environmental justice,” says Clare Schulzki, executive director of the Institute of Clean Air Companies (ICAC), quoted in the ebook. The landscape is changing. EPA, for example, continues to update and release new air emissions rules including regulations requiring additional controls on certain equipment and processes that emit Ethylene Oxide (EtO) to reduce risk to surrounding communities and protect public health from this known carcinogen.

EPA is also developing new methane emission rules that will tighten standards for new and existing equipment primarily in the oil, gas, and mining sectors.

The eBook identifies five pollution control trends:

Trend #1. The carbon footprint of air pollution controls starts to matter. ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) considerations are driving companies away from gas-fired emission combustion systems to fume abatement technologies that utilize electrically heated sources. For example, one technology, oxidation, converts pollutants into water vapor, carbon dioxide, and thermal energy. When designed properly these systems can have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gas-fired burner.

Trend #2. Concentrator systems gain in popularity. Emission concentrators are specialized systems that process large quantities of polluted air with low pollutant concentrations. This allows companies to use smaller oxidizers in self-sustaining modes. Apparently, this approach is more efficient and cost-effective.

Trend #3. Industries such as battery manufacturing, semiconductors, and renewable natural gas are soaring. For many companies in these industries, this means more factories, increased output and/or new processes.

Trend #4. Supply chain disruptions affect every industry. “If you’re contending with the inability to receive the materials you need in order to manufacture your products, you’re not alone. Nearly every industry is facing similar challenges – including your pollution control technology provider.” This means there might be longer than expected wait times for those smaller oxidizers and other neat technologies. So, plan way ahead.

Trend #5. US industry adheres to US standards even in emerging markets. Manufacturing is increasing in emerging markets. “Large companies are building more plants in Southeast Asia, for example. And many large corporations are committed to adhering to US standards regardless of local regulations.”

The handbook also lists “considerations” for companies to address when choosing emission control technologies, such as the compounds that comprise a company’s emissions, meeting regulatory requirements, sorting capital costs vs. operating costs, and sources of funding.

So again, the basic message is to plan way ahead and keep abreast of new pollution control technologies.

And don’t forget the long-term value inherent in renewable energy technologies. Just saying.

Eco-Friendly sourcing and risks

Forest Farming by Sustainability via Flickr CC

An article in Information Today talks about “reigning in” the risks of sustainable sourcing. Written by contributing reporter Samuel Greengard, the report says that building more eco-friendly and sustainable supply chains “is rapidly becoming a top priority for businesses. A clear strategy and the right technology that delivers visibility can reduce risks and improve results.”

That’s great but what has taken so long for businesses to realize this? The climate crisis is well upon us — it should have been a top priority many years ago. One of the great lessons, and confluences, of the pandemic and the climate crisis, is that supply chains of all types must change their thinking dramatically about how they do business.

Back to the article. Greengard writes:

“Product shortages and supply chain disruptions have emerged as a frustrating reality for organizations across a wide swath of industries. Due to a convergence of factors — including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and a shortage of raw materials — procuring essential materials and components is increasingly difficult.

“Yet, things suddenly get a whole lot more complicated as soon as sustainable sourcing enters the picture. As businesses strive to meet aggressive climate goals and display results on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reports, the headaches and risks multiply. An inability to obtain materials, products and services can threaten basic operations.”

Supply chains and procurement are risky enterprises and adding green principles and sustainable sourcing to the mix adds even more risk. It’s the cost of doing business, so “reigning in risk” seems like the wrong approach. Actually, it can’t be done in a significant way because risk in the modern era is a pandora’s box.

“The end goal is to establish strategies, policies and processes that fully support sustainable sourcing.”

A nice and obvious thought but extremely difficult to implement as the climate crisis becomes more, well, critical. Better to do the right things, risks or no.

,,,

Note: Things are changing job-wise for yours truly so watch this space for developments with this blog and other endeavors.

Climate change and inequality

Climate Change by Riccardo Maria Mantero via Flickr CC

For Earth Day OXFAM’s Elizabeth Endara listed six facts about climate change and inequality. That seems the nub of the climate change crisis—it affects populations and natural habitats unequally.

OXFAM cites six things about inequality and the climate crisis:

1. The biggest villain in this climate emergency is the fossil fuel industry, “but in the US, fossil fuel companies are receiving $15 billion annually in federal subsidies paid for by taxpayers.”

2. “The people who contribute the least to climate change are the ones who face the worst impacts.” An example: due to the effects of climate change an estimated 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have been displaced in search of water and pasture, just in the first quarter of 2022, despite having done little to cause the climate crisis.

3. “Black and Indigenous people face the worst impacts of climate change, which causes heat waves, storms, and other disasters.”

4. “Climate change disproportionally impacts women—whether it’s walking further to collect water, being last to eat during droughts, or assuming most of the household care responsibilities in the wake of extreme weather.”

5. “The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the three billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity in the last 25 years.”

6. The US has many laws in place—such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act—that could be protecting communities from fossil fuel pollution and climate change; but unfortunately, politics and big polluters often get in the way.

These points point to what appears an unsolvable problem: there will never be a comprehensive and stable solution for all peoples and nations. How can there be?