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/

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

New Species Discovery At iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Edwardisia iSimangaliso

 

My day has just been made with the news that a new species of anemone has been discovered at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. The new anemone species is to be called Edwardsia isimangaliso and is considered a unique find in that;

  • The anemone lives half-buried in sand, unlike other anemones.
  • It displays a large number of long, tapering tentacles
  • It is the only one in the genus [and among only a few anemones] able to survive salinities in excess of sea water.
  • It is also able to survive periodic freshwater conditions.

Click here for more information on the new anemone; Edwardsia isimangaliso.

The discovery of new species that are able to withstand changes in environmental conditions is significant due to the fact that not only is our environment dynamic and ever-changing but also due to the fact that our actions have impacted and altered the functioning of our natural environment and the environmental services that are provided by our environment. Environmental degradation, inefficient resource use, waste, climate change etc have all combined to reduce the biodiversity of the planet and thereby impacted the ability of nature to provide much-needed environmental services. Consequently, the discovery of a new species that is unique and resilient, (due to its ability to survive in both freshwater and sea water), is significant as it is indicative of a healthy and bio-diverse environment.

Biodiversity is important due to the role of biodiversity in the effective functioning of ecosystems and to ensure the provision of ecological infrastructure and green infrastructure services. As per the Convention on Biodiversity;

“At least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.”

The discovery of a new species is therefore awesome news indeed!

Additional reading:

http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares

http://www.cbd.int/convention/

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?

(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/

RIO + 20: Worth The Effort ?

Rio+20 is upon us and I haven’t posted or put any real thought or effort into the Rio+20 excitement, despite the Rio + 20 summit being hailed as  a “wonderful, green and strategic” decision making moment for the world! Does this make me a bad “greenie” or put me in the box with people who don’t care about the planet or nature or the green economy or pandas….?

I can assure you that I am very concerned about the development path/ economic trajectory that we are on. This despite the assurances and re-assurance from multinationals, corporates and governments that;

  • sustainability and equity issues are being mainstreamed
  • business and government are working towards solutions for the pressing issues of sustainable and equitable development
  • We are in fact slowly transitioning to a greener economy

“Rome was not built-in a day” but how many more summits, conferences, COPs, protocols, accords agreements,laws etc do we need before we are able to see any real and tangible sustainable development?  The fact that these conferences and summits etc attract some of the worlds greatest development minds, authorities and governments that meet (over and over again) to try to sort out the various development challenges that we face should indicate that the processes that we use to address these development challenges may not be working? maybe it is time for something else?

This week, up to 100,000 people are streaming into Rio de Janeiro for the year’s biggest international event – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held on 13-22 June. (M Khor)

With this in mind lets look at the a few issues that should be but will in all likelihood not be fully or adequately addressed or resolved at Rio+20;

  • Fossil fuel subsidies: do we really need to subsidise one the key things that is responsible for a great many of our environmental problems?
  • Emissions targets: who gets which piece of the pie?
  • Tipping points and pollution and the degradation of natural resources and landscapes: It is a well-known fact that we have to stop and redress  the pollution and degradation.
  • Equity and access to natural resources: Define fair, access and resource?
  • Green Economy: what is the definition? is this the silver bullet/ solution? or do we need something else
  • Food and resource security and scarcity: overconsumption, in efficient production methods etc
  • Full informed participation of affected stakeholders: better community participation: is it only government and business that know what is good for the rest of us?

What I am basically saying is that assurances of governments, the champagne environmentalists, the green-bling-brigade, the development set etc I am still not convinced that we are achieving much development impact by hosting  summits, sitting around and arguing the format of draft agreements and accords.

While I will keep my fingers (and toes) crossed for some exciting decsions and actions resulting from RIO+20, I will not hold my breath or drop what I am doing to follow the developments of the summit. We need to see action and change, not more meetings about meetings etc ….

Some additional reading should you be interested in other views on Rio+20:

Can Rio Solve the Worlds problems?  

Human Impacts Institute Article on Rio+20

Rio+20 Text Out of touch with reality

World Bank: Rio+20

Before its news: Rio+20

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