Friday, December 31, 2010

Green Appellations

Based on the article GREEN MONSTER published in the Earth Island Journal, Winter 2011, page,11-12.

For my last blog post of the year, I want to discuss the green appellations such as biodegradable, recyclable and eco-friendly as wells as their regulations.

Just like the food industry is subject to the FDA for using the term organic on food products, the green industry is subject to  the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via its environmental-marketing guidelines also  known as "Green Guides". Unfortunately, the guidelines were last updated in 1998 and therefore the existing definitions are outdated and they do not include appellations such as sustainable, renewable and zero carbon.

The FTC started the process of reviewing the guidelines. The business associations are criticizing the severity of the new guidelines and the environmental groups think that FTC is not going far enough. When it comes to appellations, the regulations are extremely important because it gives customer the trust needed for them to buy the certified product. The FTC plans to regulate the general environmental claims and to establish grounds for false advertising. Businesses will have to be careful with the new rules because noncompliance could also be used as the basis of consumer class action suits and even claims by competitors.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Importance of Calculations

This post is based on the article The Carbon Numbers Game, published in Bloomberg Markets, January 2011.

I found this article very interesting because I never stopped and wondered about the veracity of the way carbon emissions are calculated; I just assumed that they were done correctly by the government. According to the article, countries and companies have based their calculations on the raw materials that go into the factories and power plants; they do not necessarily check the pollution that comes out of the process.

The article mentions that there are two ways to measure carbon emissions: Bottom Up and Bottom Down.

The steps of the Bottom Up calculations are the following ( Taken from the article):
  • Delivery and Storage: Plants weigh and test coal for type, quality, moisture, ash and carbon content.
  • Burning: Officials check whether the coal is fully or partially burned.
  • Final Calculation: Companies use an equation to estimate emissions, auditors check figures
  • To obtain the Nationwide numbers the countries tally company figures, vehicle miles and other national data.
The Steps of the Bottom Down calculation are believed to take into consideration what happens in the air and are the following:

  • Monitoring: People, balloons and airplanes gather air samples. Satellites are proposed.
  • Processing: Researchers send the samples to labs to determine GHG concentrations.
  • Analysis: Analyst feed the results weather patterns and other data into computer models.
  • Conclusion: Computers run the models backwards to trace what is being emitted from where.
Because the bottom-up calculations do not take into account what is happening in the air, the actual emissions could be twice as much as what companies and nations estimate on the ground. Getting the right numbers is extremely important because they underpin the only international treaty that sets mandatory limits for GHG. There is also $141 billion worth of credits that help countries meet their Kyoto goals that are changing hands everyday in global emissions markets. These credits as well as the booming in the business of offsets are all depending/based on the bottom-up calculations.

Real verifications of the total amount of of emissions would be with a measurement device sitting in the atmosphere measuring what it has received. There are billions $ in markets that are literally based on thin air. If  the United States creates a nation wide cap-and-trade, carbon could become one the world most traded commodity. The Carbon credits get their value from the faith we put into them, you don't receive the delivery on a ton of carbon credits. This is why there is a need for a better verifications of the bottom-up calculations.

I thought this article brought up the importance of getting the calculations right, otherwise we may as well do nothing to reduce the emissions. When compared, the two sets of estimates for 23 nations added to 2 billions ton of metrics CO2, the equivalent of what Russia emitted in 2008 (Russia is the 3rd top emitter of CO2). 

But changing the way calculations are made will be expensive and most countries might not be ready to pay for it. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Global Warming and its Effects

The following post is based on the article Facing the Consequences publish in The Economist on November 27th, 2010.

Some people are still doubting global warming and actually don't believe that the world is getting warmer every year. I can often hear people saying things like: " I hope that global warming is happening because I hate winter!" and so on.

The truth is that global warming has some important effects on the earth. The world has warmed by 0.7C in the 20th century and the carbon dioxide levels are 40% higher than before the industrial revolution. The most marked changes due to a warmer planet are the following:

  • Warming up of the permafrost, ice melts in Arctic
  • Mountains and glaciers shrink and disappear
  • Winter snow melts more quickly leading to spring floods. 
  • Sea level rises  and on estimates puts 8.7 millions more people at risk of flooding in delta's by 2050
  • Increase of level 4 & 5 hurricanes, which are more destructive than smaller ones
  • Coral bleaching is triggered by temperature stress and it has a negative effect on fishing and tourism
Rich countries are able to adapt to these changes, but some people and communities are too poor to adapt on their own. Possible ways of adaptation  are the development of farming technics that can store moisture and carbon in soil and also mass migration which is obviously an unwelcome impact of global warming. The rich countries are certainly the most responsible for the emissions and it is unfair for the poor countries to pay the cost of adaptation when they were not responsible in the first place. Global warming is a concern that, as a planet, we need to consider and find a solution for. By many scientists, a change of only 2 degrees Celcius (2C) would be the limit of safety for global warming.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The REDD Program

This post is based on an article by Fiona Harvey in the December 7th issue of the Financial Times. 

Protection of forest could be one of the cheapest way to reduce global warming, therefore it has an important place at the Cancun climate change talks.

The REDD program ( Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) would provide poor countries with financial incentives to keep their remaining forest.  Some problems that have come up during the talks about the REDD program are the following:
  • How to ensure that if logging is stopped in one part of the forest it does not resume elsewhere
  • How to define an area that has been degraded but could be restored
  • How to monitor the vast tracts of trees
  • Whether and how to allow some form of sustainable logging
  • How to respect the rights of indigenous forest people
Already 6 billions dollars has been put toward the program of which 1 billion dollars has been provided by the United States. Unfortunately, its hard to be sure about the future funding of the program  as it might be difficult to get the money needed from the private sector in the future. A large amount of money will be needed to make it worth it for poor  countries to forgo the opportunity to exploit their forest.

For more information about the REDD program:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Earth, Inc. By Gregory Unruh

My first post is about a book I just finished reading: Earth, Inc.  Using Nature's Rules to Build Sustainable  Profits by Gregory Unruh.
The book presents how it is possible to take the usual  value chain and to put in its biospheric concept, which means starting with natural capital and considering the post consumer waste. In order to be able to adapt the value chain to the biosphere, it is important to know the five biosphere rules. Unruh lists them as :

  1. Material Parsimony: Minimize the types of materials used in products with a focus of materials that are life-friendly and economically recyclable.
  2. Power Autonomy: Maximize the power autonomy of products and processes so they can function on renewable energy
  3. Value Cycles:  Recover and reincarnate materials from end-of-use goods into the new value-added products.
  4. Sustainable Product Platforms: Leverage your value cycle as a product platform for profitable scale, scope and knowledge economies
  5. Function Over Form: Fulfill customers' functional needs in ways that sustain the value cycle.
My favorite part of the book explains how some companies were really successful in recovering their end-of-use goods and using them again to create new value-added products.  This turns the waste into valuable goods and gets companies to use them as an input.
The Fuji Xerox example highlights how it is possible for sustainability benefits to also be economic benefits. The company was not profitable in Australia until they started remanufacturing used laser printers.

I recommend reading this book if you are interested in how companies can achieve sustainability.