Greening or Green Washing Gucci!

Gucci's Green Range

My initial reaction to the launch of the Gucci ‘zero-deforestation’ handbag collection was a combination of disbelief and suppressed excitement. Excitement… if I saved enough I could possibly buy myself an awesome bag that is sustainably produced. Disbelief… nothing is ever as green as it seems, intentionally or unintentionally.

One of the biggest “issues” in my life is trying to balance my love for pretty-blingy-fashiony- baubles and my need to be sustainable and minimize my impact on nature…. This is not an easy issue to overcome… however, I try to not fall for the pretty things that the world throws my way by buying long-lasting classic items of clothing that are sustainably and equitably produced etc. Unfortunately, as we already know labels and greening campaigns etc are often nothing more than green wash and marketing campaigns that have little sustainable substance and tend to complicate matters.
So I set out to determine whether I could buy a bag from Gucci’s Green range without negatively impacting my ecocred.

On the plus side the range;
•Is made from zero deforestation-certified Amazon natural calf-skin leather hand-and originating in Brazil
•Is crafted with craftsmanship respecting important environmental issues such as traceability and anti-deforestation.
•Involves Gucci pledging to donate 50,000 euros to the National Wildlife Federation, an organization that works to promote sustainable, ecologically-sourced Brazilian leather.
•Only organic cotton is used in the construction of the bag inners.

On the negative side:
•There is no (know) independent non-fashion industry related audit or traceability process to prove that the leather is in fact Zero deforestation-certified. Each handbag comes with a “passport” that provides the history of the product’s supply chain going back to the ranch that produced the leather. There is no evidence to suggest that the passport is audited by a reputable organization etc
•We know that organic cotton is not necessarily good for the environment due to production processes, and agricultural practices including child labour, large water footprints and mono-culture etc (See previous ecocred articles on organic cotton and Victoria’s (not very angelic) Secret and the Levis article.)

So where does that leave me and my attraction to shiny-fashiony baubles?

Well… I like the idea and concept and applaud the effort. I would however like to see a more integrated and holistic approach to the marketing of the range of bags that discloses the fact that certain aspects of the bag may not be as sustainably produced as initially thought, such as the supposedly organic cotton. My reasoning behind this is that by being honest about the challenges that we face in creating totally green and sustainable products we are in fact increasing the knowledge of consumers and also making people realize that is it not a simple thing to produce 100% sustainable and equitable products. A product having some sustainably sourced and produced components does not comprise a sustainable product, if other unsustainably sourced components form part of the same product. Such knowledge could help consumers move to more sustainable consumption patterns and also better understand the complexities and challenges related to enabling a transformation to sustainable production and a sustainable economy.
Maybe, Gucci need to disclose the not so 100% greenness of the bag and use the opportunity to show how they intend to and hopefully eventually get to the point when they can truly say that they have a range of bags that is truly green. This would in my humble opinion be a more honest and credible and sustainable way of marketing the Gucci Green range.

So in conclusion, yes I would like a Gucci bag, though, I think I need to wait and save up for the bag as well as to see if the bag is in fact as green as all the hype!

References and additional reading
Ecocred Victorias Secret Article
Monga Bay
Luxury insider
Gucci Green Carpet challenge
Ecocred Levis article

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Earth Hour 2013: Try And Make Your Earth Hour Action Really Sustainable ….

It’s been a year since Earth Hour 2012 and I really hope that whatever it was that you did for Earth Hour last year has made a meaningful difference to the Earth and to your Ecocred.

My view on Earth Hour hasn’t changed in the last year, click here for my 2012 post on the subject.

There have been quite a few similar blog and news articles with similar thoughts on the Earth Hour debate. This is positive and I guess points to the fact that people are beginning to understand that we should be making sustainable and longterm Earth Saving commitments and not commitments that comprise primarily of greenwash, feel good, short term actions. So …. if you do decide to do something for Earth Hour try and commit to making your Earth Hour action something long term sustainable and not greenwash! That in my opinion would be the best thing to do to make Earth Hour really make a difference!

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Joining the Climate Change Dots and an Awesome How To Win Any Climate Change Argument Flow Chart!

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At least once or twice a week I end up having to explain, discuss, or argue my view on climate change. Often the discussion, (civilised or not so civilised) results in a stand-off. Leaving me thinking that; either some people are just not able to join the climate change dots or I am terrible explaining simple concepts.

Fortunatetly, a friend of mine (thanks, you know who you are) came across an awesome “How To Win Any Climate Change Argument Flow Chart” and sent it through to me. Because we all know that it is all about winning and helping others I thought I would share the awesome flow chart with your guys! So… below you will find the flow chart that was created as part of the Climate Desk collaboration by James West.

A Bottled Water Resolution for a More Sustainable 2013!

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Many of us are lucky enough to live in an area where the municipal water is safe and potable. Despite this many people living in such areas prefer to consume bottled water. Maybe they think it’s a sign of wealth, or its healthier or its cooler. In reality bottled water is really just unsustainable and not necessarily healthy, and definitely not “cool”.

The town of Concord in the USA, has started the year with the promulgation of a law, making single-serving bottles of water illegal. The law aims to discourage the use of bottled water and encourage the use of tap water and help in combating the worldwide problem of plastic pollution. Ten ecocred points to the town of Concord!

I thought this was a great way for the town start 2013 as the law is significant in more ways than one, as its impacts go beyond the reduction of plastic pollution. The bottled water industry, like most things in life, has impacts that we often don’t see and therefore do not consider. The consumption of bottled water is also associated with carbon emissions, inequitable water use, and inefficient energy use, commoditization of nature and a natural process, inequity and a lack of sustainability. Thus the impact of bottled water goes further than discarded plastic bottles often seen littering roadsides, rural areas, rivers and beaches.

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The bottled water industry may be seen as an indicator of a larger unsustainable consumption pattern or problem that many people are not fully aware of. I could go on and on about why bottled water is so very very bad and you would probably get very tired and bored while I list all the reasons. So I thought it easier for all concerned if I provide a little information on the key reasons that I believe bottled water consumption is unsustainable. I am not going into the issues in detail, but you can always find more detailed information on the topic as there are tons of articles etc out there. In addition I will also leave some links behind that you could follow should you be keen.  

The key reasons for dropping your bottled water habit are;

  • Toxicity and health: Most plastic water bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that is associated with ill health and toxicity. In addition plastic bottles are known to leach harmful chemicals into water that could have health impacts.  

The World Health Organization states that chemical contaminants, such as lead, arsenic and benzene, may be present in bottled water.

(nowastewednesdays.com 2011)

  • Quality: Municipal water is regularly tested and the quality is regulated, not all bottled water suppliers and processing plants are regulated and tested.

“in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can cost up to 10,000 times more.” (www.treehuger.com,2006)

  • Energy use: the bottled water industry is energy intensive and has a large carbon footprint. Energy is used to transport water to the bottling plant and to transport bottles from the bottling plant to consumers. This results in unnecessary energy use and carbon emissions.

municipal water requires only a little energy to pump the water through pipes to our homes”

  • Oil use: many billions of barrels of oil are used to manufacture plastic bottles. This may be seen as unnecessary use of oil. Oil mining, processing and combustion are associated with environmental degradation; reduction of oil use would benefit us all. One way of reducing your oil use would be to stop the unnecessary consumption of bottled water. 
  • Equity and Commoditization of water: Bottled water companies are using water, a natural resource, as a private commodity. In order to secure profits such companies are trying to and have often succeeded in securing access to water resources such as aquifers and wetlands. In the long term this could have dire consequences for food security, environmental health and the economy, as many people may not be able to afford water due to rising water costs, profits and the commodification of water.   

“Multinational corporations are stepping in to purchase groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can, and the bottled water industry is an important component in their drive to commoditize what many feel is a basic human right: the access to safe and affordable water.”

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/5-reasons-not-to-drink-bottled-water

  • Pollution and waste: a great deal of the plastic used for water bottles does not get recycled and ends up in landfills or littering out urban and natural environments. The management and landfill of waste especially plastic is costly and this cost could be avoided by not consuming bottled water. A lot of the plastic bottles that don’t get landfilled and or recycled end up in nature where they cause litter and harm to nature and natural processes.  

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So if you want to start of 2013 with a quick, easy to keep and sustainable resolution all you have to do is quit you bottled water habit! This would simply entail:

  • Always asking or non-bottled water, unless you are in an area where there is no safe potable water.
  • Carrying your own water bottle (not plastic) with you and fill up at water fountains, taps etc.
  • Choosing non-bottled water whenever you have to option to do so. E.g. if you are at a meeting or conference or workshop and bottled water is provided ask for non-bottled water.
  • Asking for tap water when dining out and the waiter suggests bottled water for the table.

The multiplier effect of reducing your bottled water consumption also will include the following “good and green’ actions;

  • Reducing your carbon footprint
  • Reducing the amount of plastic waste that has to be landfilled or becomes litter landfilled
  • Ensures that access to water remains a basic right for all, not just for those that can afford it.
  • Support your municipality
  • Prevents the privatization of water
  • Prevents the unsustainable use of aquifers and water resources.
  • Prevents unnecessary energy use.
  • Prevents environmental degradation.
  • Saves you money.

 

 

References and more information:

http://news.iafrica.com/quirky/834862.html

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/5-reasons-not-to-drink-bottled-water

http://www.sierraclub.org/committees/cac/water/bottled_water/bottled_water.pdf

http://nowastewednesdays.com/2011/03/09/bottled-water-a-bigger-enemy-that-you-think/

http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water_university_edition/social_environ/

http://www.treehugger.com/culture/bottled-water-what-a-waste.html

http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water_university_edition/social_environ/

Is Credit Risk Affected By Environmental Degradation ?

Most people in the natural resource and environment or sustainable development sectors are aware of the linkages between environmental degradation, the unsustainable use of natural resources and economic costs.

However, it has been quite difficult to highlight the impact of the above on the costs of funding as well as the availability of credit. An exacerbating factor is the difficulty often encountered in ensuring that environmental risks are effectively considered in development and credit assessments.  Most businesses, banks and DFIs are beginning to pay more attention to environmental and sustainability issues. However, this often takes the form of mere lip service, green washing, or a basic compliance approach. In many cases the integration or mainstreaming of sustainability issues are left to the marketing department, and regarded as an add on or fringe department.

The impact of this has been a dilution of what was meant to be the mainstreaming of environment and sustainability considerations into business and the economy. This has also resulted in external risks to the financial and economic system being underestimated. One such risk is environment related credit risk, which has the potential to negatively impact multiple financial markets and have potentially significant economic and social impacts.

Some of the potential impacts and risks have been identified in the UNEP FI report titled; A New Angle on Sovereign Credit Risk. While focused on sovereign credit risk, the report raises issues that are not necessarily new or restricted to the sovereign credit risk sector. This is due to the fact that the findings of the report are based on bio-capacity and ecological footprint concepts that highlight some of the key development and economic related risks and issues.

Interesting points raised in the report are:

  • Natural resources, both renewable, such as biological resources (food and fiber), as well as nonrenewable resources (fossil fuels, ores and minerals) are critical to each nation’s economy.
  • To date, risks stemming from renewable resources in particular are not well-considered in sovereign credit risk assessments.
  • Traditional sovereign credit risk analysis appears to inadequately reflect pressures from increasing global natural resource scarcity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change impacts
  • This report addresses how and why natural resource and environmental risks are becoming financially material for sovereign credit risk, not just in the medium term, but even in the short run.
  • A 10 per cent variation in commodity prices 0.2 and 0.5 per cent of a nation’s GDP. Given the recent fluctuations in commodity prices investors should take note of these issues in the short-term (0 – 5 years).
  • A 10 per cent reduction in the productive capacity of renewable, biological resources, and assuming that consumption levels remain the same, could lead to a reduction in trade balance equivalent to between 1 and over 4 per cent of a nation’s GDP. Given the growing body of scientific evidence on ecosystem degradation and climate change impacts, governments, bondholders and credit rating agencies should take note of these issues in the short to medium term.

Despite the implementation of sustainability reporting and compliance measures within organizations and the banking sector issues such as sovereign and credit risk seem to have been sidelined, diluted and or overlooked. The report is a great place to start the discussion on effective and integrated environmental risk assessment  and will hopefully encourage the type of planning and assessments measures at all levels and in all sectors which do in fact ensure sustainable development.

 Click here to read the report!

Seafood: Fraud, Mis-labeling and Laundering.

Do you know what seafood you are eating?
http://www.ecowatch.org

Many of us eat seafood, because we like the taste, for religious or cultural reasons, and or for health related reasons; high in omega fatty acids, healthier than red meat etc. I particularly enjoy good seafood paella, a platter of sashimi or a plate of fish and chips. However, in order to ensure that the seafood that I eat is sustainable and healthy, I always try to ensure that the fish I eat is local and caught or farmed in a sustainable and ethical manner. In this way I also try to minimize the chance that the fish I eat is not full of pollutants and heavy metals.

I am often “that” person who while at a meal or while out shopping quizzes the wait staff or manager about the origin of the fish on offer. Sometimes the discussion is informative and helpful but very often I get blank looks and end up having to explain the importance of eating local, ethical and sustainable, to someone who is generally looking at me like I am a crazy person and thinking to themselves that I should just “get on with it and make a decision!”

Fortunately, in the last few years the various stakeholders within the biodiversity and seafood sector have tried to educate the public about sustainable seafood consumption and how to choose seafood that is healthy without becoming a contributor to fishery collapse and loss of biodiversity.

These education measures have taken the form of outreach programs, licensing and quota systems, DNA testing, cell phone apps, pocket guides, websites aimed at preventing  the consumption of seafood that is unsafe for consumption or the consumption of species that are  on their way to becoming extinct or endangered. This has made my dining and seafood shopping experience a bit easier and calmer.

However, I recently came across an article that mentioned seafood fraud and seafood laundering, that sent me into a bit of a panic. I had never actually though of seafood fraud and seafood laundering ever having anything to do with each other let alone having anything to do with me.

“Regardless of the reason, seafood fraud is illegal and can have serious consequences for fish, fishermen, fishmongers, and fish-eaters.” (www.fishwatch.gov).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/oshadavidson/2011/05/26/dna-tests-show-fraud-in-seafood-labeling-is-widespread/

Popular fish and their frauds (from “Bait and Switch,” Oceana). Correct answers are : 1. Fish on the left is Nile perch. 2. Right is mako shark. 3. Right is rockfish. 4. Left is farmed Atlantic salmon.

Seafood laundering occurs when seafood and seafood products are laundered through a third-party to avoid duties and licenses and increase catches and profits. Such laundered seafood enters the market illegally and results in mislabeled seafood, seafood fraud, and ecosystem collapse and resource depletion. Seafood fraud also occurs when farmed, important or endangered seafood is labeled as sustainably sourced and or wild seafood. Seafood fraud can happen at each step of the supply chain – the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging phase. Seafood fraud occurs “for a variety of reasons, from simple misunderstandings or lack of information to blatantly deceiving consumers in order to increase profits, or even worse, laundering illegally harvested seafood (http://oceana.org).

Seafood fraud not only causes the collapse of fisheries which would in turn affect our dietary choices and make dining out or grocery shopping  that much more stressful, but, seafood fraud also has significant impacts such as;

  • Impacts on natural systems: The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services due to the fact that consumers may be misled about the nature and status of fish stocks and the condition of the marine environment due to mis-labeling, which maintains the appearance of a steady supply of popular fish species despite severe overfishing. This result in the general public is being unaware that the species that they are consuming is being rapidly depleted or threatened.

The oceans provide food, medicine, energy and serve as a recreational resource, but they are not as once commonly believed, an inexhaustible resource. (http://oceana.org)

  • Undermining of conservation efforts as a result of mis-labeling. Mis-labeling of seafood makes it difficult for consumers to make eco-friendly choices despite the will to do so.
  • Negative health impacts: Consumers may end up consuming seafood that contains high levels of contaminants and toxins such as mercury. This could be hazardous to the health and wellbeing of women trying to conceive, pregnant woman, nursing mothers and young children.
  • Negative impacts the livelihoods of communities that depend on the seafood harvesting and processing industry.
  • The creation of a market for illegal fishing by making it easy to launder illegally      caught seafood products through legitimate markets. This results in the      undermining of conservation efforts to prevent overfishing and accidental      capture of at-risk species and hurts honest fishermen. (www.oceana.org)

Despite the fact that you may be trying to consume only sustainably caught and healthy seafood (two points for trying) that is not full of toxins and or about to go extinct there is quite a high possibility that you have consumed illegal and fraudulent seafood.

I thought I would be able to provide a tip on how to ensure that your seafood is legal, non-toxic and sustainable. However, I find myself stumped …..  Clearly, the seafood labeling and conservation initiatives are not fool-proof. I guess once again the message is the same; don’t blindly accept the packaging, advertising, greenwash and the hype and try to ensure that your individual consumption of seafood is in fact what it is labeled as being.

References and additional reading for the super keen;

Fishwatch

Seafood advice

Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings

State of World Fisheries

Fishwatch facts

Oceana

Fur, Fashion and Ecocred

www.cbc.ca

A significant increase in fur use within the fashion industry over the last two or so years indicates a departure from the anti-fur and animal rights sentiment and campaigns that characterized much of the green and ethical consumption discussions between the 60’s and 90s. I find this quite interesting given the increasing attention of the world on sustainability and green issues that has been brought about by a greater awareness of environmental degradation, equity, resource scarcity and climate change.

Fur use has a long history spanning from ancient use of fur to current fur use. A (very) brief history would be something like;

  • Necessity where our ancestors killed an animal for necessity i.e. for sustenance (meat) and used the rest of the animal in a sustainable manner such as using the inedible parts of the animal for clothing, tools etc
  • Status symbol: the association of fur and royalty (specifically ermine, mink)
  • This in turn resulted in fur being farmed (1800’s) and becoming a costly luxury item.
  • The development of cheaper options such as dyed and fake fur
  • Anti-fur campaignscommencing in -+ 1960’s (onwards), that resulted in reduced fur use. e.g.
    • PETA was established in 1976 and Lynx in 1980
    • Naomi Campbell and other super models in PETA campaigns
    • Lynx “it takes up 40 dumb animals to make this and only one to wear it” campaign

Fur sales have seen an increase of approximately 70% between 2000- 2010, and fur seems to be de riguer in most winter fashion collections and those in the fashion forward and trend setting scene. In many of instances the fur used is real and not fake, and there seems to be a growing acceptance of fur as a sustainable and natural choice. Considering the speed at which trends spread, especially in the fashion industry, this trend does not bode very well if you happen to be a creature with a beautiful and silky pelt.

In light of the above, given rise in sustainability, environment, green wash,ethical consumption and the fact that fur is a natural “resource” that is being positioned as a benign natural product by the fur industry, I thought it wise to look into the ecocred of fur. Is fur sustainable,green, ethical, equitable and good for us?

These are the issues that I think one should consider;

  • History shows that the fur trade has negative impacts on biodiversity and has resulted in species decline and biodiversity loss. As we know we need to maintain our biodiversity to ensure the provision of ecological services etc
  • Fur and leather are natural, recyclable and reusable.
  • The impact of fur farming includes pollution, waste, habitat loss, loss of biodiversity unethical treatment of animals and is hardly sustainable and or ethical, just like large-scale cattle or sheep farming.

“Compared with textiles, farmed fur has a higher impact on 17 of the 18 environmental themes, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions. In many cases fur scores markedly worse than textiles, with impacts a factor 2 to 28 higher, even when lower-bound values are taken for various links in the production chain. The exception is water depletion: on this impact cotton scores highest.” (Bijleveld et al, 2011)

  • According to the International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) “Both scientists and governments agree that after more than 100 generations, farmed fur animals are effectively domesticated. In a statement to the Dutch Government in 1999, the Danish Justice Ministry noted that “The farmed mink’s temperament, for instance, has changed from being a nervous, agitated animal fleeing to its nesting cage upon approach of human beings, to now often reacting curious and examining.” Not really sure I like where this train of thought is going…!?
  • A lot of us eat meat, (though hopefully you try to eat free range, local and organic etc to try to reduce the ecological footprint of your meat consumption and be more sustainable), so technically you are involved with the killing of animals as well as habitat loss and loss of biodiversity already. Does this make wearing fur more acceptable, sustainable or ethical?

“ The climate change impact of 1 kg of mink fur is five times higher than that of wool which was the highest-scoring textile” in a study on the textile industry and climate change impacts. (Bijleveld et al, 2011)

  • Even if you are vegetarian or vegan you are to some degree involved in habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, killing of living things etc unless you are able to grow your own food and verify that there has been no negative ethical or environmental impact arising from your source of food.
  • International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) also states that “the majority of wild species used by the fur trade are not taken specifically for their fur, but as part of wildlife management programmes. These are necessary for the maintenance of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, population and disease control and the protection of public lands and private property. The international fur trade does not handle any endangered species and to this end supports the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • There is also a great deal of evidence of inhumane treatment of animals as part of the fur manufacturing process.

I haven’t covered all the impacts or aspects of fur and I could go on and on and on about the ethics and environmental impacts, some positive, most negative.

My aim is to highlight the fact that it is up to each of us to ensure that we recognize the real impacts of our fashion choices. Personally it’s about necessity, demand and not falling for the green wash that fur is green and sustainable within our current context.

I would rather not add to the demand for something that is not a necessity and also has a significant environmental impact, despite the fact that I love fashion and would love to wear something awesome, soft, warm and beautiful. If I have to keep warm I would prefer to do so with something that has the lowest impact and not something that adds unnecessarily to environmental degradation even if it’s is the height of fashion. If you have to up/ recycle an old, over 20 or 30 years) fur item but don’t add to the needless demand for fur.

Reference and additional readings for the super keen:

History of Fur: http://www.furgifts.com/?p=90

http://www.historytoday.com/carol-dyhouse/skin-deep-fall-fur

IfTF: The Socio-Economic Impact of International Fur Farming www.iftf.com

Marijn Bijleveld, Marisa Korteland, Maartje Sevenster The environmental impact of mink fur production. Delft, CE Delft, January 2011

http://www.oikeuttaelaimille.net/materiaali/esitteet/information%20about%20fur%20farming.pdf

World Bank, Development Delusion and Other Interesting Articles

Just read a great and informative article about the World Bank entitled “The World Banks Development Delusion”. The article briefly explores the history of the Bank and argues the need for change in the funding approach used by the World Bank, in its attempts to facilitate development and reduce poverty. The article made the following interesting points:

  • History shows that most of the countries that have come under the sway of the World Bank – and its sister institution, the IMF – have experienced declining development outcomes over the past 30 years or so.
  • Developing countries need much more control over decisions that affect them. Power in the World Bank is presently apportioned according to members’ shares, just like in a corporation. Major decisions require 85% of the vote, and the United States, which holds about 16% of the shares (and controls the presidency), wields de facto veto power. The same is true of the IMF. Developing countries together hold less than 50% of the vote, which is shocking given that the institution supposedly exists to promote their welfare. • Development aid should be delinked from corporate bonds. This would take Wall Street’s interests out of the equation, eliminate the pressure to siphon wealth from debtors, and allow the bank to evaluate its performance on the basis of poverty reduction outcomes instead of loan volume, as is the current practice. (http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/jasonhickel/2012/09/28/the-world-bank-and-the-development-delusion/)

The article also reminded me about the poem The Development Set. Yes, I know I always mention this but it’s only because it’s so true and I have yet to see any real evidence of development finance institutions trying to steer away from being tarred by the same brush that tarred “The Development Set”.

Should you wish to find out more on unsustainable aid, read the article on the World Bank and its development delusions and or read the poem The Development Set, check out the links below:

The need for Sustainable Aid

Aid, Development and the Development Set

The World Banks Development Delusion

Infrastructure Development and Funding

(Not so) Rare Earth Metals & Your Role in Sustainable Development


Despite their name, rare earth metals are are abundant in nature but are hazardous and costly to extract. Rare earth metals are a group of 17 metals that have moved from being a by- product of mining operations to an important component of many or most of the hi-tech products that are becoming/ have already become a key component of everyday life for most of us. As a society nearly all the technology that we use includes rare earth metals, including many of the green technologies (tablets, cell phones, solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars) that we hope will help us transition to a more sustainable society. This makes rare earth metals both a valuable input into, and a strategic for, sustainable economic development. This is especially true within the context of climate change, environmental degradation and an ever increasing need for more efficient resource use. It is therefore essential that these metals are used and extracted in the most sustainable way possible.

It is particularly important to consider rare earth metals within the renewable energy and green technology context. It is also essential to weigh up the pros and cons of transitioning to new technologies before simply adopting them. It is just as important for your ecocide that you know what the real impact of your renewable energy, paperless office, electric car etc really is as you do not want to be lulled in to a false sense of green-ness. For example:

  • Electric cars seen as a way to reduce carbon footprints and GHG emissions so necessary for climate change mitigation. However, an electric car might use nearly 10 times the amount of rare earth metals as opposed to a conventional car which uses a little more than one pound of rare earth materials.
  • A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 megawatts) typically contains 600 kilograms, or about 1,300 pounds, of rare earth metals. (http://dgrnewsservice.org/2012/04/09/bright-green-technologies-dependent-on-rare-earth-metals-that-may-soon-be-economically-unviable/)
  • Moving towards a paperless office may save trees and water but the technology needed to do so will require rare earth metals that will necessarily involve mining, pollution and environmental degradation.

I am not saying new hi-tech solutions are unsustainable, what we need are solutions that have the least impact. It is therefore essential that we weigh up the costs and benefits of any new, greener technologies that we adopt as we make our way towards sustainability.

Rare Earth Element  Used in    
 Scandium  metal alloys for the aerospace industry
 Yttrium  phosphors, ceramics, metal alloys
 Lanthanum  batteries, catalysts for petroleum refining
 Cerium  catalysts, polishing, metal alloys
 Praseodymium  improved magnet corrosion resistance,   pigment
 Neodymium  high power magnets for laptops, lasers
 Promethium  beta radiation source
 Samarium  high temperature magnets, reactor control rods
 Europium  liquid crystal displays, fluorescent   lighting
 Gadolinium  magnetic resonance imaging contrast agent
 Terbium  phosphors for lighting and display
 Dysprosium  high power magnets, lasers
 Holmium  the highest power magnets known
 Erbium  lasers, glass colorant
 Thulium  ceramic magnetic materials under development
 Ytterbium  fibre optic technology, solar panels
 Lutetium  X-ray phosphors
Sources: (Nath, 2011)   (British Geological Survey, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2010)

At present the majority of the rare earth metals are mined and processed in China. China produces an estimated 97% of the rare earth metals that are used around the world (Nath, 2011). China is also associated with unsustainable mining and production practices making society’s reliance on unsustainably sourced Chinese rare earth metals somewhat “unsustainable”.

An example is;The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, where two-thirds of Chinas rare earths are mined and processed. Baotou is the largest Chinese source of rare earth minerals, the minerals are mined at Bayan Obo, north of Baotou then brought to Baotou for processing. The mining and processing operations in Baotu has resulted in soil, air and groundwater pollution which has in turn negatively impacted on the health and well-being of people living in the area.

“According to an article published by the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, “Every ton of rare earth produced generates approximately 8.5 kilograms (18.7 lbs) of fluorine and 13 kilograms (28.7 lbs) of dust; and using concentrated sulfuric acid high temperature calcination techniques to produce approximately one ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater plus about one ton of radioactive waste residue (containing water).” Furthermore, according to statistics conducted within Baotou, “all the rare earth enterprises in the Baotou region produce approximately ten million tons of all varieties of wastewater every year” and most of that waste water is “discharged without being effectively treated, which not only contaminates potable water for daily living, but also contaminates the surrounding water environment and irrigated farmlands.” (www.thecuttingedgenews.com, 2012 )

While rare earth minerals may be able to help us transition to a more sustainable society they are not the silver bullet to enabling the transition towards a low carbon, greener economy. It is therefore essential that mining and processing of the rare earths occurs in a sustainable manner as does the use of technologies containing rare earths. As a society we need to be more mindfull of how we use our technology and not blindly assume that we are doing the environment a favour by changing to a so called “greener technology”.

So the next time a new tablet, ipod, cellphone or whatever is released don’t just buy the new one for the sake of having the latest model, “Wasting rare earth minerals on gadgets is not going to get us any closer to being sustainable”, (says the blogger typing away on her latest hi-tech tablet/ gadget!)

Sources:

Baotou article

The cutting edge.

Dr Chandrika Nath 2011, Rare Earth Posst Note UK Parliament. 

Rare Earth Elements, June 2010, British Geological Survey

http://www.keepersoftheblueridge.com/environmental-impact.html

Water Scarcity And Your Virtual Water Consumption ?!

A renewable resource is a natural resource with the ability to reproduce through biological or natural processes and replenished with the passage of time. Renewable resources are part of our natural environment and form our eco-system. One such resource is water. Water is able to regenerate and is part of our natural environment. However water may only be considered a renewable resource when carefully controlled usage, treatment, and release are followed.  (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012)

UN research indicates that we are facing a serious water scarcity problem.

  • Approximately 700 million people in 43 countries suffer as a result of water scarcity.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
  • With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region

(www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml)

So if water is meant to be renewable why are we in this problem?

The reality is that water in our current societal context is not really renewable because we have compromised the ability of the water resources to regenerate.  Water affects all of us all the time and in every way possible. For the purposes of readers (assuming that most readers/ people with access to the internet of this post have easy and regular access to potable and piped water); water scarcity doesn’t just impact on how many baths or showers we take or how often we flush the toilet or whether we drink bottled or tap water or if you have a low flow shower head etc

Water is an integral and critical component of the environment and is therefore fundamentally important for the survival of humankind and society as we know it (not meaning to be alarmist…. but it is true).

“Water is one of the primary barometers of climate change: A rise in sea-levels, flooding, and extreme storms combined with general water stress and more severe and frequent droughts will escalate crises in municipal infrastructure, requiring continual upgrades for water purification, stormwater drainage, and sewage treatment, all of which will dramatically raise the price of water at the retail level. ( Bond, 2011) 

It has been predicted by the Water Resources Group that the global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 (CDP, 2011), this indicates that something is very wrong with the way that we are using our water resource considering the fact that water, despite being a finite resource is a renewable resource.  Water use has increased exponentially and has been driven by increasing water demand from industrialization, economic development and population growth. This has resulted in increasing competition for our water resources, which has resulted in increased tensions and challenges around the management, allocation and sustainable use of water resources.

In many instances the water needs of large-scale agriculture and industry end up competing for the water that essential for the sustaining local communities and ecosystems. Ecosystems are an essential component of the hydrological cycle as they are not only reliant on water for survival but also provide a key role in water purification and provision, thus ecosystems maybe seen as nature’s natural “green” infrastructure and service providers.  In addition ecosystems also provide us with the very important ability to adapt to climate change impacts and environmental degradation. It is therefore obvious that we need healthy and functioning ecosystems in order to ensure that we have a sustainable water source.

We all know that we need water to survive however the fact that water contributes in some way to the production and use of everything we consume and use is often overlooked. Everything that forms part of our lifestyle and society has a virtual water value. Virtual water refers, in the context of trade, to the water used in the production of a good or service (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012). It should however be noted that specific measure of virtual water can be more or less depending on regional context, climatic conditions and agricultural practice. The virtual-water content of a product, commodity, good or service may be defined as the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced”. (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012). This definition is important as many of the goods and service produced in water poor areas are consumed in water rich areas, resulting in the true water value not being fully considered or accounted for by the consumers.

For example, a liter of potable water in “water-rich” Scandinavia is unlikely to be as precious/valuable as a liter of potable water in water-scarce Namibia (CDP 2011). Consequently the 70 liters of water it takes to make 100 grams of apple may have more value in Namibia than it does in Scandinavia. This combined with the fact that a large proportion of the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the goods and services that you consume often not produced locally increased the virtual water value of the product.

An example of this would be 100% organic cotton t-shirt has a virtual water value 2700 liters! The 2700 liters mean a great deal more to someone living in an arid environment and having to draw water from a communal well than it does for someone living an a water rich area who has access to piped potable water.

Examples of virtual water values are:

  • 2400 liters of water to make 100 grams of chocolate.
  • 70 liters of water to make 100 grams of apple
  • 5000 liters of water to make 500 grams of paper
  • 2499 liters of water to make 150 grams of burger
  • 4650 liters of water to make 300 grams of beef (about one steak)

(www.virtualwater.eu)

Our economy and society are dependent on water and the virtual water associated with the production of goods and services. If the cost of water went up so would the cost of all our goods and services. How we use and pollute our water is therefore a critical issue especially since the amount of water that is clean and drinkable is steadily decreasing due to pollution (UNEP WHO 2012) arising from our unsustainable use of water and the inability of ecosystems to effectively purify water due to environmental degradation.

In the UK, for example, “it has been estimated that two-thirds of all the water that its population of 60 million people consume actually comes embedded within the imported food they eat, the clothes they wear and industrial or chemical goods they purchase. The result is that local water management issues affecting disadvantaged communities around the world may be significantly exacerbated and influenced by consumption patterns in more affluent countries.(CDP 2011)

How are we, a society that is entirely dependent on water, who’s wasteful and inefficient use is the reason we are in this problem meant to respond to the water resource challenges? Especially as the water problem will undoubtedly result in associated environmental, economic, political and social problems?

Simply stated we need to change the manner in which we consume and produce goods and services. As consumers we need to question and refuse to consume products and services with high virtual water values. Also we need to recognize that not everything is a necessity and we can do without some/ a great many of the extras and luxuries that we consume.

We can’t change our habits overnight (though it would be great if we did….), instead we need to make a difference where we can and build up to making the big changes that we need to make in our consumption and production patterns.

A few pointers to help you reduce your water and virtual water consumption:

Water reduction tips for dummies:

  • Shorter bath and shower time
  • Close tap while brushing teeth
  • Recycle water in the home.
  • Plant indigenous plants in your garden
  • Check and fix any leaks in your home

 Virtual water reduction tips for dummies:

  • Buy local and seasonal produce grow your own veggies
  • Eat less meat: become vegetarian, meatless Mondays etc
  • Eat less chocolate …(difficult I know….)
  • Waste less
  • Reuse and recycle organic products like paper, cotton etc
  • Don’t be a slave to fashion: Buy good quality and timeless clothing that can take you from season to season reducing the need to keep replacing your clothes etc
  • Download a virtual water application to help you make smarter choices.

Patrick B (2011) Durban’s Water Wars, Sewage Spills, Fish Kills and Blue Flag Beaches.

UNEP WHO 2012 Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012

 CARBON DISCLOSURE PROJECT (2011):CDP Water Disclosure South Africa Report 2011: Assessing the value of water

UN Water For Life Decade http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/