My Latest Green Fail….

…. another post about green that isn’t really green and how we all need to change our thinking and consumption patterns…and yes I am not perfect …..

My previous post on rare earth minerals got me thinking about the fact that transitioning towards a greener and more sustainable economy by focusing on technology, resource and innovation may not necessarily be the best option, especially when:

  • The new and innovative technologies end up increasing our dependence on resources, albeit, new or different ones.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in dependence or impact that is merely dressed up in different possibly green-washed and even organic new swag.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in an increase in unnecessary consumption often due to green wash and unsustainable trends.

Keep in mind that not all new and greener technologies are unsustainable. What is important is the manner in which we make the change to newer technologies, and the quantity and quality of the new technologies that we buy. Merely buying the newest and greenest technology will not make you greener and in fact may make you guilty of unsustainable and unethical consumption patterns.

It is very important that when we make our “green” choices we consider the entire impact and not merely the superficial impact that we would like to see?  Unfortunately, and much to my dismay I am guilty of this in many respects. So I thought as my good deed for the day…..I would share some of my green fails with the hope that I could prevent someone else from going down the same route.

My most recent “goody two-shoes green delusion fails” are;

  • Falling for a new high-tech gadget and upgrading my iPad to the latest version, that isn’t really that different from my previous one? From a functionality perspective I use the new one for exactly the same purpose as the previous one.  The question is did I really need the new one? and was the overall cost of the upgrade really worth it?

Green Pros:

  1. Less paper use and waste by reading eBooks, magazines and online news,
  2. Note taking, report editing and emails on the tablet = less printing of emails and reports and having an easily transportable and accessible library of documents that I need during the day.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use of resources and rare earth metals used to produce, package and transport my new tablet: think ecological footprint etc
  2. The iPad 3 has a higher carbon footprint that the iPad 2. (http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-green-is-new-ipad-part-6-comparing.html#)
  3. Waste: landfill / recycling and disposal costs associated with the previous tablet. (though, I did try to offset this cost by up-cycling  the old tablet)

  • Green Retail Therapy: I recently bought a whole new batch of solar fairy lights and garden lights. The new solar fairy and garden lights were marketed as being greener than the previous generation of solar lights etc.  … so despite that fact that I already have a few pretty solar fairy lights twinkling away in my little garden and the fact that I don’t need more lights in my garden, I bought some more.

Green Pros:

  1. At least I didn’t buy conventional fairy lights that would increase my use of electricity generated from coal.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use and waste of resources that were used to produce, package and transport my new ”green” lighting.

Ultimately, these two examples are a large-scale green fail on my part that has sent my ecocred plummeting, despite the fact that I didn’t send the old iPad or fairy lights to a landfill.

I didn’t really need a new tablet to do exactly the same things that my previous tablet did. Neither did I need additional fairy lights., …even if they were solar-powered and therefore greener than conventional lights.

I was just a greedy little wannabe wanting to have the newest and shiniest gadgets. Gadgets, that are being marketed as green, that maybe a bit faster, prettier etc , yet barely have enough new features to outweigh the environmental and social costs of the new gadget or technology.

Not everything that is green is sustainable!

Additional reading to up your ecocred!

Five things you should know before buying apples iPad.

How green is the new iPad?

Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development

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Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!

 

 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (www.worldgbc.org)

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 

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How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=green-buildings-may-be-cheapest-way-to-slow-global-warming)

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (www.uncsd2012.org)
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

www.gbcsa.org.za

www.worldgbc.org

www.uncsf2012.org

Role of Sustainable Transport in the Creation of Sustainable Cities

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Cities, especially African cities are facing increasing challenges in terms of resource scarcity, climate change, rural urban-migration, environmental degradation and disaster mitigation. Urbanisation and the growth of cities is increasingly placing pressure on land, energy and resources resulting in increased environmental threats and vulnerabilities and it is estimated that two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. 

The transport system of a city is an effective reflection of the quality of life, the range and location of activities and the range and availability of goods and services within a city. Thus it is evident that transportation and transport systems are integral to the effective and equitable functioning of a city. The significance of the role of transportation within a city is further reiterated by the following:

  • Approximately 20-30 percent of a city’s land-use budget is used for transportation infrastructure and to facilitate transportation (Mathew and Rao, 2006).
  • According to the South African Ministry of Science and Technology (2011) the transport sector accounts for 30% of the country’s GHG emissions and is therefore considered a major GHG contributor.
  • Transportation has the ability to integrate as well as isolate cities and societies.
  • Globally automotive CO2 emissions are increasing steadily (IEE, 2009).
  • Globally transport is the second highest CO2 emitting sector with emissions being estimated to reach 18 billion tones by 2050 (IEE, 2009).

Transportation plays a key and critical role in the functioning of cities and is therefore able to play a fundamental and strategic role in the future of our cities. In particular, city’s transportation systems are able to play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions and facilitating resource use that is efficient, equitable and sustainable. Key factors impacting the manner in which a city utilizes resources are land use densities, primary activities and energy and transportation efficiencies. These issues are directly linked to the manner in which the city has developed, is planned and how the city will be planned and developed in the future.

In order to facilitate more sustainable transportation and ultimately sustainable cities the key sustainable transport characteristics that  should be incorporated into city planning are as follows:

  • Cities should be planned to be inclusive, to facilitate accessibility and be equitable.
  • Cities should be planned with pedestrian and cyclist accessibility and movement as the priority.
  • Cycling and other non-green house gas emitting modes of transport should be prioritized above motorized and other green house gas emitting modes of transport.
  • Pavements and cycling lanes should be planned for and integrated into all new development applications.
  • Pedestrian and cycling facilities should be linked to public transport networks.
  • Public transport should be prioritized over individual car based transportation. In this regard linkages to stations and bus routes must be planned, integrated and effectively implemented with the aim of promoting public transport use above individual car based transportation.
  • Transport systems should be tailored to the size, form and key functions of the city with the aim of providing a balanced transport system.

REFERENCES:

Department of Transport 2005(a): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 technical report. Department of Transport

Department of Transport 2005(b): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 key results of the national household travel survey. Department of Transport

Mathew T and K Rao 2006: Role of Transportation in Society. IEE 2009: Green House Gas Emissions and the Transport Sector, Panorama www.ifp.com

Jargon: Getting In The Way Of Sustainable Development

I often find myself sitting in a meeting or workshop being bombarded by words and concepts such as sustainable development, sustainability green, green economy, green infrastructure, low-carbon, low-carbon economy and other fashionable jargon.
The meaning of sustainable development and the concept of sustainability had always been pretty clear to me. However recently as the focus on sustainable development, environmental degradation and climate change has increased sustainable development and sustainability morphed into “naughty words” and everyone started fixating on climate change, low-carbon and “green” instead. There are various reasons for this one of which is probably due to overuse and green wash and misdirected energies within the sector. As a result green economy, green jobs, green infrastructure, low-carbon economy … etc … became the ‘words/ concepts’ du jour. Unfortunately, each of these words and concepts translate differently depending on the context within which they are being used.
This lack of agreement on the meaning of the terms is likely one of the reasons that we seem to be unable to resolve any of the genuine sustainable development (environmental and social and economic) issues that we face or achieve the sustainability goals that we are working towards. This may also be one of the reasons that there is so much green wash and so many well intended (green, low-carbon, climate resilient etc) projects which result in impacts that are not necessarily sustainable.
In the diagram below I try to explain (broadly) the inter-relationship between the concepts of sustainable development, low-carbon economy and the green economy.


Sustainable Development covers the social, economic and environmental issues and aims to ensure that social, environmental and economic needs etc are met in the most efficient and effective manner while retaining the integrity of ecological and social systems.
Issues of “green” outside of a sustainable context have a narrower focus on environmental issues. The green economy focuses on environmental issues only so far as there are potential economic benefits to its direct stakeholders. In many instances this has resulted in negative social impacts due to the lack of an integrated approach towards genuine sustainability, and the co-opting of sustainability as an economic fundamental, as more important than anything else. Anything that is economically sustainable is hardly ever socially or ecologically sustainable in today’s world.

In the same way that a low-carbon economy is aimed at reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change effects, it has a narrower focus on carbon emission reduction and the facilitation of economic growth. This does not necessarily mean that such an economy is necessarily green, sustainable or beneficial to society.The focus on carbon ignores all the other emissions from a fossil-led economy, or its vast (mostly negative) social impacts. Beginning from health impacts and stretching to fewer jobs that suit production, but little else.

This lack of clear and accepted definition, understanding and the interchangeability of terms and concepts among actors and stakeholders in the sustainable development sector is a key contributor to the poor progress being made in the implementation of the sustainable development agenda. The lack of a clear definition and understanding has resulted in a duplication of efforts, misdirected energies and people talking past each other. What we need are focused definitions and the implementation of actions that facilitate development that is beneficial to the environment, society and the economy. What we do not need is more workshops, discussions and meeting on what needs to be done ……..etc

In the words of Gro Harlem Brundtland;

“Fundamentally, sustainable development is a notion of discipline. It means humanity must ensure that meeting present needs does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Supermarket Refrigeration, Carbon Emissions, Climate Change & A Poll!

How often do you walk into the fresh food section of your favourite (or not) supermarket and wish you had brought along a snowsuit or at least a jersey… More often than not my entrance to the refrigerated product section while grocery shopping makes me want to turn around and run. The refrigerated product section tends to be rather chilly…. maybe too chilly sometimes. I understand the need to ensure constant low temperatures in the food chain/ management process etc etc, however, one needs to consider the costs involved with maintaining low temperatures for such large open areas. This is particularly the case when the entire refrigerated food section of a shop is cooled and the fridges are door less. Surely the simple action of installing doors on supermarket fridges would reduce the need to cool entire sections of supermarkets while also reducing cooling costs and associated emissions?

Some interesting facts about supermarket refrigeration and emissions are;

  • Chemicals released by fridges account for 30% of British supermarkets’ direct emissions (www.gaurdian.co.uk)
  • There is concern about the use of damaging HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) gases as coolants which were introduced in the 1990s as a safer alternative to ozone-depleting chemicals such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). (www.chillingfacts.uk.org)
  • Supermarkets are the biggest industrial emitters of HFCs, which do not damage the ozone layer but have a high global warming potential.
  • One tonne of the widely used gas called R404a has a warming effect equal to 3,900 tonnes of CO2 over a 100-year period. (www.gaurdian.co.uk)

Issues such as financial costs, emissions and environmental costs all need to be considered and mitigated particularly now, due to the need to respond to the effects and impacts of resource scarcity, climate change and environmental degradation. Many supermarkets and refrigeration companies are working towards reducing the use of technology and substances that emit green house gasses. However, the move towards efficient, sustainable and climate friendly refrigeration solutions for supermarkets seems to be quite slow and I have been wondering why it is that most supermarkets still have open, door less fridges? I do realize that some supermarkets are actively (or in certain instances slowly) working towards using less harmful refrigeration systems is it not easier to simply place glass/ transparent doors on fridges in the interim? That way shoppers can see what is inside the fridge’s while the supermarket maintains appropriate temperatures and reduces cooling costs and emission. There is also the option of motion sensitive automatic doors on fridges? Are door less fridges not being used because:

  • Manufactures don’t make large fridges with doors?
  • Cost involved with doors on fridges?
  • Supermarkets are scared that consumers will buy less if they have to open a door? Or if there is a glass door between the food and the consumer? Supermarkets therefore opt to provide lazy shoppers with the easiest option?
  • Shoppers are perceived as being too lazy to open a door?
  • Germ transfer from door handles are seen as a problem?

So I thought it would be a good idea to see how many people think doors on supermarket fridges are a viable interim measure for supermarkets to adopt until we are able to have more efficient and sustainable cooling systems in all our supermarkets.

Please humor me and take this poll so that we are able to determine whether or not asking supermarkets to install doors on their fridges is a viable option!!

  

 

References and additional reading for the super enthusiastic: 

Woolworths SA

The Gaurdian UK (article)

EPEE Global

Chilling Facts UK

http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/produkte-e/fckw/massnahmen.htm

http://www.agreenerfestival.com/2010/02/chilling-facts-%e2%80%93-supermarkets-fridges-more-damaging-than-plastic-bags/

http://www.developmentchannel.org/environment/energy/973-supermarket-fridges-hazardous-to-environment-study http://www.eia-international.org/ http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=grocery.sb_grocery

COP16 : Cancun ~ COP 17: Durban

World Energy Outlook (International Energy Agency)

As we get closer to COP17 the issues of climate change, emissions, targets, the Cancun Agreement, equity, technology transfer, climate finance and what is expected from COP17 are on everyone’s mind. I these issues aren’t on your mind they should be because climate change will impact your life in one way or another….. if it hasn’t already. So I thought a bit of information on COP16 and its outcomes as well as what is expected from COP 17 would help contextualize the issues and hopefully get more of us thinking about the key issues around climate change and COP17.

Oil Refinery. (www.gaurdian.co.uk)

The key outcome of COP 16 is the Cancun Agreement. The Cancun Agreement is not regarded as the “ideal or required” fair, binding and ambitious agreement that is needed to resolve the climate change problem. A key criticism of the Cancun agreement is the fact that the agreement focused primarily on the alleviation of climate change symptoms without effectively addressing the causes of climate change. Of particular importance is the fact that the agreement did not include a binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target or strategy or resolve the issue of the financing of the Green Climate Fund and REDD+.

The Agreement included and recognised the following:

  • That reductions in global GHG emissions are required, in order to reduce GHG emissions
  • A Shared Vision that Parties need to take urgent action to meet this long-term goal of keeping temperature rise below 2º.
  • A paradigm shift towards building a low-carbon society is required.
  • The importance of Climate Change Adaptation.
  • REDD+:agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation was reached despite the issue of financing not being resolved.
  • Technology Transfer
  • The establishment of a Green Climate Fund to mobilize long-term finance for climate change in developing countries. The financing of the fund was not detailed or specified and this was seen as a significant gap in the agreement.
  • The inclusion of gender considerations and the recognition that climate change impacts women and men differently.

Issues that were left to be resolved at COP 17, in Durban, South Africa are;

  • A decision on the second phase for the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Agreeing which countries are most vulnerable
  • The arrangements to compensate countries for permanent loss and damage due to climate change.

Some interesting COP17 articles:

No cash will be a COP-out  

South Africa aims for fair deal at COP 17

COP 17 ‘must establish roadmap’

Why is it so hard to stop Climate Change

World headed for irreversible Climate Change