Category Archives: Science & Policy

The shortest explanation of the USA’s Clean Power Plan you are ever likely to see

The Clean Power Plan proposed by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been floating in the news, but it’s a pretty big document to digest all at once. Here we’ll share what it aims to do and how, and what stage it is at right now.

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are to:

  • Protect the health of American families by preventing up to 3,600 premature deaths, preventing 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and preventing 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays. These deaths and illnesses are largely attributable to climate- and pollution-related threats.

  • Save American families money (nearly $85 a year in 2030).

  • Boost renewable energy generation by making up to 30% more renewable energy generation in 2030, lowering the costs of renewable energy, and creating jobs.

  • Provide benefits to low-income, minority, and tribal communities.

  • Mitigate the significant costs it expects to incur when faced with “unchecked” climate change.

So why is this plan needed? It addresses carbon pollution, which is the biggest driver of climate change. Electricity and transportation are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

What does the plan intend to do?

While the EPA sets the goals, each state, tribe, and territory makes its own final plan and that it consults with a reliability or planning agency when it does so.

The plan was announced in August 2015. So where is the plan at now? In February, 2016, the Supreme Court decided that the Clean Power Plan is pending judicial review. The decision on the case can be made as early as July 2016 and no later than February 2017.

There are several legal issues with the Clean Power Plan that merit review. Some of them are:

  • Violation of the 10th Amendment. The Clean Power Plan “tramples” on States’ rights.

  • Violation of the 5th Amendment. The Clean Power Plan confiscates property without due process or just compensation.

Opposition came from states West Virginia — a major coal producer — and Texas –a major oil producer –as well as from various business groups (e.g. U.S.Chamber of Commerce) and utilities (e.g. American Electric Power Co., Southern Co., Peabody Energy Corp.).

Because the Clean Power Plan is a deeply partisan issue, it is likely that its approval will be decided after the presidential election, when a new Justice will be selected (following the death of Scalia). On the one hand, some groups point out that many states have already begun a shift toward renewable energy and that they do not need the plan to do so. On the other hand, a rejection of this plan indicates a lack of responsibility for climate change and carbon emissions — a continuation of Kyoto-era affairs. The EPA, at least, would like the USA to lead on the issue of climate change, in contrast to its past. “The Clean Power Plan is changing the international dynamic, and leveraging international action because when the U.S. [sic] leads, other nations follow. U.S. [sic] action has helped spur announcements from China, Brazil, and Mexico to limit their emissions or increase RE deployment.

US Presidential Elections 101: Everything You Need to Know About Their Environment Policies

The USA presidential race is heating up! And there are a lot of issues to keep track of. But as environmental issues are falling off the news cycle post-COP, we’d like to make sure that they’re on the agenda. In this post, we see where the major candidates stand on climate change and the environment.

The players

In the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agree on several things:

  • Humans are responsible for climate change.
  • Climate change is a pressing problem.
  • Climate change can be addressed in the form of (a) clean energy tax breaks, (b) rejecting drilling in the Arctic and offshore, and (c) rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • The transition to renewable energy must keep in mind the livelihoods of those involved in the fossil fuel energy sector.

But before we get to how they differ, let’s take a quick look at the Republican Party.

We have Ted Cruz, who will seize every chance he can to flatly deny climate change. Donald Trump has only recently decided that “a lot of [climate change] is hoax”–we’re guessing that is the bit manufactured by China. John Kasich is moderate as far as the Republican Party goes — meaning that he’s believed climate change is real since 2012most of the time, anyway. However, he doesn’t believe that humans are the primary cause of it.

Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. Modified from NewsNinja.

Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. Modified from NewsNinja.

No further analysis of the Republicans needed. Let’s jump to the Democrats! Ding ding ding! Hillary vs Bernie, issue by issue.

Carbon tax

While Bernie supports legislation to impose a carbon tax, Hillary does not (in contrast to her previous presidential run).

Public lands

Hillary’s September 2015 plans for public lands were somewhat conservative. At that point, she was open to the the additional leasing of these lands to fossil fuel companies; climatologist and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, Michael Mann, pointed out that, given the cheap nature of those leases, this acts, in effect, as a subsidy to fossil fuel interests. In February 2016, when asked whether she supports banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands, she stated “It’s a done deal… No future extraction. I agree with that.” However, she has not changed her policy to specify how far in the future she is talking about, and her past is mixed on this issue.

Check out the video: Hillary Clinton Thinks Banning Fossil Fuel Extraction on Public Lands is a “Done Deal”

In the fall of 2015, Bernie Sanders co-sponsored the Keep It in the Ground Act to ban all fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Energy infrastructure

In September 2015, Hillary unveiled her agenda for US energy infrastructure that seeks to transform the country into “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century”. This followed support for renewable energy with a focus on solar in the summer. Her plan incentivizes clean energy, prices carbon emissions, and aims to work with Canada and Mexico in a coordinated effort to lower carbon emissions. It notes the pollution and oil consumption that need to be addressed as a consequence of oil spills, chronic methane leaks, disrepair, and explosions. It also builds upon the Obama administration’s new EPA rules to reduce GHG emissions under the clean power plan. While her plan identified issues of grid security, rail safety, and modernizing the pipeline system, Bernie’s identified issues with the fuel economy standard, mountaintop removal coal mining, and pollution.

Bernie’s goal for clean energy use is  more ambitious than Hillary’s. While he wants to create a 100% clean energy system for electricity, heating, and transportation, Hillary’s goal is to create a system which generates enough clean renewable energy to power every home within 10 years of her taking office (not taking into account transportation). Bernie’s plan has a few more details on how to transform the transportation system (e.g. building electric vehicle charging stations, high speed trains) while Hillary’s remains vague.

Offshore drilling

Bernie wants to ban offshore drilling altogether.

Hillary, on the other hand, supported offshore drilling in 2006 (voting in favour of a bill opening new Gulf Coast areas to oil drilling).  But in December 2015 she expressed her full opposition to offshore drilling, stating that there was “so little to gain and so much to lose” with Obama’s Department of Interior’s draft plan to allow drilling in areas off the east coast.

Fossil fuel subsidies

Bernie is in favor of repealing fossil fuel subsidies. In 2015, he proposed the End Polluter Welfare Act to that effect. Hillary’s plan is also against fossil fuel subsidies, but check out the “Public lands” section (above) to see in what ways her policies could indirectly be subsidizing fossil fuel companies. She has also voted yes on removing oil and gas exploration subsidies in the past.

Fracking

Hillary’s views on fracking are tempered; not wholly for it, but advocating being “smart”, putting in place the “right safeguards”, and recognizing that “natural gas is no long-term answer”, and with various other conditions. This view has remained stable over the past few years.

Bernie is firmly against fracking, and he has made this a major issue with which to draw the line between himself and Hillary.

Support from grassroots environmental groups

When the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) endorsed Hilary in November 2015, headlines boomed that she had widespread environmentalist support. But despite the backing of this particular environmental group, Hillary generally does not have the support of grassroots environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth and 350.org. However, the LCV does have ties to the Clintons, and their support was more indicative of hedging political bets rather than disagreement with Bernie. (Bernie’s LCV “scorecard” has a higher score than Hillary’s!)

There are many reasons for widespread disapproval of Clinton by grassroots environmental groups. One is her longtime silence and “waffling” on the Keystone XL pipeline; although she finally stated she is against it, she did so after it had already been rejected. Her calling it “a distraction” from more broad climate change policy also alienated her from many grassroots groups who considered the issue emblematic and representative of American climate change policy, rather than a specific issue. Her statement that the Copenhagen 2009 [climate] talks were a victory also indicated her being out of touch with the reality of grassroots environmental groups, which considered those talks a massive failure. Even at last year’s COP21 in Paris, the failures of Copenhagen loomed large.

Bernie, like many grassroots environmental supporters, not only found Copenhagen to be a failure but was critical of COP21 as well. In proposing a worldwide climate summit involving engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities, his plan states: “The [UN] Paris climate talks in December are an important milestone toward solving climate change, but even optimistic outcomes of these talks will not put the world on the path needed to avoid the most catastrophic results of climate change. We must think beyond Paris.” This not only agrees with grassroots environmental group assessment of the talks, but mirrors their language (many groups talked of “planning through Paris”).

Tweets from Mother Jones.

Tweets from Mother Jones.

Hillary also became known for her “flip-flopping” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and her mixed support for other free trade partnerships (including CAFTA and NAFTA); most grassroots environmental groups are firmly against free trade agreements.

Bernie has a good record of pro-environmental policies and proposals that further indicate he is well attuned to the needs of grassroots environmental movements. His “Keep It in the Ground Act”, mentioned above, is a direct reference to a particularly large and loud one. His climate plan also differs significantly from that of Hillary’s in that it directly and heavily focuses on the impact of the fossil fuel lobby on politics.

Another reason Bernie is favoured by grassroots environmental groups is that he is known for (and still actively advertises) his having “the courage to stand up to big oil, because he won’t take their money”. Meanwhile, Hillary’s ties to the fossil fuel industry are well documented–see this, this, this, and this article. What’s made it arguably worse is her denial of knowledge and distancing herself from these donations.

Environmental justice

Bernie has been responsive to addressing issues that tie together race, class, and gender, and has further attempted to address issues of environmental justice that are widespread in the United States. Sanders has offered an environmental-justice amendment to legislation. This legislation  calls on Congress to affirm a wide array of statistics that point to the public health risks faced by minorities in the United States as a result of air pollution, and pushes for the creation of “a national environmental and climate justice climate change plan” intended to address “the disproportionate impacts of air pollution to low-income and minority communities”.

Hillary has connected climate change to women’s rights in her advocacy for clean cookstoves and her launching the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves for the UN. However, she has not had a history of “connecting the dots” in the United States.

The verdict

There are many issues to consider when evaluating a political candidate–environmental ones are a subset of these, but not more or less important than others!

Hillary’s plans are likely to be appealing to those who see climate change as a technical problem that can be changed by modifying a few rules, and slowly. They are also likely to appeal to those who see social and environmental problems as separate from each other. She finds the politics of climate change very daunting, and only takes a position on them when she feels politically safe doing so. She is a highly strategic and tactical politician, often fond of waiting for a decision to be made before she publicly expresses her opinion of it. While this can be frustrating–Anderson Cooper put it best: “Will you say anything to get elected?”–it is part of her package of her highly polished diplomatic and political skills and a large reason for her success.

Bernie’s plans tend to appeal to those who see climate change as a problem that cannot be distinguished from wider social issues, and to those who want to see a lot of things done differently and quickly. Bernie has shown great consistency in understanding, representing, responding to, and defending environmental groups. He appeals to many environmentalists because he is known for his “straight talk” and “what you see is what you get” persona. As far as environmental issues go, that is rare and thirsted for–more than any other set of issues, except perhaps foreign policy, they are obtuse and filled with rhetoric that often obscures intended action. For many an environmentalist, Bernie is a dream candidate. But his style of politicking may not be as well suited to other realms.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Photo modified from PopSugar.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Photo modified from PopSugar.

The majority of Carbon Analytics is not eligible to vote for this election. At any rate, we wish the United States a President who not only sees climate change as a pressing problem but can help the country become a world leader in addressing it!

The world’s going nuts! For reducing food waste, that is.

It’s looking like this year’s sustainability theme will be the elimination of food waste from supermarkets — and Carbon Analytics is going bananas over the news! This week alone, Italy announced it is poised on becoming the second country to pass a law making supermarkets donate unbought food; and Tesco, the UK’s biggest grocery chain, committed to sending no surplus food to waste from its stores by the end of 2017.

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Tesco’s programme to eliminate food waste is launching in 15 cities and regions in the UK this week, including Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, and Portsmouth. In tandem with this, it will be launching “Perfectly Imperfect” produce–AKA its “wonky veg” range–in 200 stores, and extending its partnership with Fareshare, the food redistribution charity. Photo by Jitze Couperus.

These announcements come only about a month after France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, requiring them to donate it to charities and food banks.

Food waste has long been a hot potato in the Global North. A House of Lords inquiry in 2015 estimated that 89m tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU, and it expected that figure to rise to around 126m tonnes by 2020 if no action is taken! In the United States, well over a quarter of food that is grown, processed, and transported is never consumed, and most food waste ends up in a landfill.

Campaigners have been in a stew over a number of aspects of this problem, including households tending to overbuy and then throw away food, and supermarkets throwing away and actively destroying (e.g. bleaching) food that is perfectly edible. While environmental concerns have underpinned these campaigns, the issue came to boil in the past few years as the injustice of throwing away good food as levels of poverty and homelessness have risen. The world produces more than enough food to feed its entire population–and yet the vast majority of it suffers starvation and malnutrition.

The issue of food waste is also tied to climate change. Producing all the excess food that will never be used is an incredibly energy- and water-intensive process that generates greenhouse gas emissions and depletes resources that are becoming scarcer and scarcer as climate change accelerates. Landfills are a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions–particularly methane, a gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. A fifth of Canada’s methane emissions, for example, are attributable to landfills. And landfills is where most food waste ends up (and not just in Canada). WRI estimates that if food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter–surpassed only by China and the United States. It also estimates that food loss and waste generate more than four times as much annual greenhouse gas emissions as aviation and is comparable to emissions from road transport.

FLW_graphic2

Image from WRI.

In supermarkets, key reasons for food waste are unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, promotional offers (e.g. buy-one-get-one-free), demand for nice-looking vegetables, and poor storage.

While these reductions in food waste by supermarkets are very welcome and should become normal in every country, there is much room for “closing the loops” in food waste beyond supermarkets. In the EU, for example, by percentage of weight of food lost, the retail and wholesale sectors are responsible for only 5%, while households, food/drink manufacturing, and food service/hospitality are responsible for a lot more.

Graph from the Guardian (2015), but data from 2010 EU research

There are many ways we can close the loops on food waste:

  • Restaurants can pay more attention to the “fork” part of the “farm to fork” equation. While many restaurants pride themselves on using local suppliers who provide better-tasting and more “sustainable” food products (check out, for example, the Sustainable Restaurant Association), many still throw away perfectly good food. Instead, this people can be given away to the homeless nearby or to organisations that redistribute food. One of the cream of the London-based startup crop, bio-bean, collects waste coffee grounds from coffee shops and then recycles them into advanced biofuels and biochemicals, which can be then used to heat buildings or power buses. McDonald’s makes and uses biodiesel to power its fleet out of used cooking oil.
  • Food and drink manufacturers should reuse their waste. Similarly to bio-bean and McDonald’s, food and drink manufacturers can reuse the waste they create in processing and manufacturing products. Although there are some efforts to reduce packaging waste, to make use of anaerobic digestors, and to reuse solid waste as fertilizer, there is still a great deal to be done! We’d like to egg on manufacturers to not package up so many fruits and vegetables for sale in supermarkets when they can be bought by weight.
  • Supermarkets can pay more attention to the “farm” part of the “farm to fork” equation. Supermarkets can get produce from local sources, rather than be sourced by huge industrial farms. This saves costs on transporting, supports local businesses and farmers, and makes it more likely that the food will be healthier, tastier, and less harmful to the environment. All that’s needed is a little creativity in coordinating!
  • Households need to reduce their waste. Households can dramatically reduce their food waste by participating in composting or anaerobic digestor programmes and by planning their meals. Buy less! Online tips and tools such as the “Food Waste Assistant” abound.

While a huge difference can be made by individuals, we think that there are huge opportunities by having country-wide or industry-wide initiatives to encourage both businesses and individuals to close these loops. The EU has taken on food waste in its Circular Economy Package; hopefully it will cut the mustard in being a creative and unifying effort that closes as many loops as possible, rather than limiting itself to defining tools for measurement and redefining “best before” labeling.

Help us generate some food for thought! Tell us how you plan to reduce food waste this year, at home or in your business.

How can climate change increase the risks to your business?

While climate change is becoming slowly but increasingly on the minds of big businesses, small- and medium-sized enterprises or businesses (SMEs) appear on a spectrum of their awareness and attention to climate change. Many green businesses pride themselves on doing good for the planet — either in their attention to locally sourced products, to organic produce, in their use of renewable energy, or in their reduction of waste. Many of these green businesses may not explicitly want to address climate change, but they are aware of it and see taking care of the planet as addressing climate change in addition to a variety of other environmental problems.

There are also SMEs that are only just realising that climate change not only poses a problem to our countries, our cities, and us as individuals, but that they may have effects upon their businesses as well. In 2006, 45% of small businesses thought that climate change is blown out of proportion, and 26% thought it was a real threat to them. A different study conducted by the same company (AXA) found that by 2015, 27% of SMEs were focusing on adapting their businesses to be more resilient and that 53% even thought climate change represented an opportunity for their business.

SMEs still struggle with finding access to resources that help them deal with the impacts of climate change.

Here we unpack some of the biggest ways SMEs can be affected by climate change.

Climate change impact

Everyone will be affected by changes in climate differently, and SMEs have to adapt to the unique conditions they are faced with. Most generally, climate change is likely to cause building and infrastructure damage, interruptions to services and potential damage to infrastructure, and interruptions to supply chains.

In the UK, SMEs will have to adapt to drier summers and wetter winters, as well as potential flooding, and hotter weather. In winter, this may mean less spent on heating, but also means businesses will have to be prepared for emergencies like floods or other damp-related things, such as mould.

SMEs, depending on where they are located in the USA, could experience anything from drought in California to flooding and more rain in the northeast. According to the director of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, “Climate-related changes in ocean ecosystems are affecting the nation’s marine species and the people, businesses and communities that depend on them.”

SMEs in Australia are also subject to a wide variety of potential impacts. SMEs relying on sharing the richness of the ecological “hotspot” that is Western Australia may be affected by severe impacts to the unique species in the area. SMEs in Queensland have to contend with a lower water supply and an increase in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones.

Canadian SMEs also have to contend with an increase in extreme events.

Worldwide, resource misuse and scarcity in combination with the effect of climate change on crops (which not only supply the foods we eat but the materials we produce) will result in higher prices for many goods. SMEs will be challenged to find creative ways to reduce their own consumption of certain goods and materials while having to satisfy customers’ expectations. Industries that support SMEs, such as the insurance industry, are already experiencing stresses due to climate change, and changing circumstances in their own businesses are likely to affect SMEs. Many events that are likely to be caused by climate change and to affect SMEs, such as flooding, are considered uninsurable, which means that SMEs will bear the brunt of having to protect themselves against future damage.

SMEs get a varying amount of support from their local governments, depending on how well developed programmes and initiatives surrounding climate change are developed. Some cities are better able to help SMEs because they have more advanced climate change initiatives. Adaptation Scotland has “SME Info Notes” to help small businesses meet their climate change challenges.

Market risk

Businesses face risks that come from increasing and increasingly volatile prices of oil, gas, and electricity. While big businesses have to worry about replacing their own or suppliers’ entire power plants, or fitting hundreds of buildings with solar panels, SMEs don’t have that worry. They can even buy solar panels at IKEA! Although there may be an initial effort to find and install a renewable source of energy, the effort is well worth it for an SME, in terms of greater energy independence, cost savings, and energy efficiency.

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Photo by “10 10”, January 27 2015. Available under Creative Commons license.

Reputational risk

Consumers and other businesses are becoming a lot more demanding of the businesses they engage with. Although it may be difficult to prove a decrease in customers due to not addressing climate change or being otherwise “sustainable”, businesses that pride themselves on addressing such concerns often attract a loyal — and loud — following.

This article was edited on 14 March, 2016 to include the effect of climate change on Alaskan fisheries. 

An Easy Win for Governments: Why It’s No Longer Scary to Implement Carbon Emissions Measurement Policy

Following the Paris COP21 the climate talks in December 2015, many felt a skepticism about governments being able to live up to their commitments. One reason for this is that while governments want to regulate the reporting and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), they are afraid to burden companies.

The idea that reporting on carbon is cumbersome and unreasonable to ask of any corporation or company (big or small) is a misconception. The technology has evolved to make doing annual GHG assessments easy and affordable. While previously all companies would have needed to spend £2k – £10k on an audit, or several hours building a complicated spreadsheet, it is now a cinch.

A variety of carbon footprinting tools and calculators exist

Other than our own product, which offers carbon footprinting for free and on the cloud, there are plenty of groups, organisations, and software packages that make carbon measurement and reporting easy. NativeEnergy, in Vermont, provides a Greenhouse Gas Tracking and Reporting Tool that complies with variables assessed by the world renowned World Resources Institute and Carbon Disclosure Project. Access Dimensions provides a carbon accounting tool within mid-market accounting software, while Carbon Guerilla/Computatis are online carbon accounting and professional environmental consultants. CarbonLow Emissions and Climate Smart both provide software that measures carbon emissions for businesses.

Massive amounts of utility and fuel data exist online

All of these tools and developments are driven by the existing and rapidly growing available data for utilities and fuel that are freely available online.

 

Photo by Amsterdamized, 2010, under Creative Commons license.

Photo by Amsterdamized, 2010, under Creative Commons license.

While it is becoming increasingly common for national governments and local governments (particularly under the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) cities programme) to monitor, measure, and manage their emissions, businesses only do so when required to by law (e.g. EU ETS laws) and rarely do so voluntarily. While businesses may slowly become increasingly likely to volunteer participating in a carbon reporting and management process, climate change is happening at a rate too fast to wait for businesses to come around at their own pace.

However, were a government to mandate businesses in their jurisdiction to report their carbon emissions, they would be heralded as pulling off a “radical” policy, and would likely attract a lot of positive attention from other city and national governments. (Although they may initially attract a lot of opposition as well.) This would help businesses and city and national governments make decisions at various scales based on more granular data.

Carbon Footprints 101: Why Carbon Footprints Are Failing Us

Yesterday, in “Carbon Footprints 101”  we explored what carbon footprints are and their benefits. But today we’ll talk a bit about carbon footprints’ major shortcomings. We hope you will contribute to the discussion with your comments!

Problem #1. Categories and definitions are open-ended and flexible.

Conventionally, when we think about a carbon footprint, it conjures images of a company’s heating, electricity and travel.  These correspond loosely to the industry reporting framework of “Scope 1 and 2” (fuel you burn, or fuel that is burned to produce your electricity) with a little bit of Scope 3 sprinkled in (e.g. fuel needed for flights and other transportation).  These categories have flexible definitions, and are a very narrow subset of the full scope of emissions that a company enables, either through their own fuel consumption, or by creating the demand for fuel consumption among their suppliers.

 

What’s missing in most carbon footprints. Designed by Carbon Analytics. Please ask for permission before reproducing. info@co2analytics.com

 

While flexibility is usually a good thing, the industry standard reporting framework of “Scopes 1,2, and 3” act like buckets into which companies can pick and choose the activities they want to report. Often, information that is difficult to obtain is excluded — but this overlooks potentially huge emissions-savings! In general, most companies report only their Scopes 1 and 2, but leave out 3, where the majority of emissions actually live. A commonly accepted approach is to report employee travel in Scope 3, even though it should be reported in scope 1.

Sometimes, companies will tailor which activities they report in Scope 3, and may do so when expecting an upcoming decrease in emissions to cast their net improvement in a favourable light.

Problem #2. It doesn’t always lead to greater sustainability in practise.

While carbon footprinting does have huge potential to be a conversation-starter that can lead to improved environmental performance, without a way of identifying and acting on improvements, the change stops there. In the worst case, the footprint becomes just a number: footprints are reported and decrease, but companies actually conduct activities that are increasingly harmful, such as resource degradation and pollution. A company is seen to be doing its part, but doesn’t address broader environmental sustainability. One set of researchers concluded that “the carbon footprint is a poor representative of the environmental burden of products, and [that focusing on carbon footprinting exclusively] runs the risk of inadvertently shifting the problem to other environmental impacts”. (This paper is freely available on ResearchGate.)

Problem #3. Only the biggest companies are expected to use it.

Since the Greenhouse Gas Protocol was launched in 2001, carbon footprinting has been undertaken by thousands of businesses. Most of them are large companies, including many Fortune 500 companies. This is partly due to the fact that many big businesses are obliged to do carbon footprints in order to fulfill various reporting requirements (e.g. of climate change legislation such as EU ETS or CRC), to participate in carbon reporting initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), or to fulfill obligations as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. This has created an environment where large companies are talking to other large companies, limiting more diverse participation in the process. As a result smaller companies aren’t taking advantage of huge cost savings and opportunities for optimization that come with carbon footprinting, because the process is “locked in” by still being part of a purely environmental space, but not a general business space.  Many business owners don’t realize that there is a whole additional set of tools they could be using to improve.

So where do we go from here?

We have two big ideas that we think can improve the concept and process of carbon footprinting. We won’t harp on them here — the point isn’t to advertise ourselves when you could simply check out our website.

These two ideas are:

  • Including scope 3 emissions in all measures of carbon footprinting — and making these measurements as clear, well-defined, and all-encompassing as possible.

  • Allowing small businesses to be part of the process.

What do you think? Do these suggestions make carbon footprints fool-proof? Or is carbon footprinting just more greenwash? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments below!

 

For more general information on the definition of carbon footprints, scopes, etc, check out Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprinting source.

Carbon footprints 101: Why they’re a great tool for any business

At Carbon Analytics, we think carbon footprints can change the world by making businesses more transparent and accountable to the effects they have upon the environment. But we also know that carbon footprints are not perfect and that some issues need to be addressed. Here we’ll see what carbon footprints do and what they offer. In another post — “Why Carbon Footprints Are Failing Us” — we’ll discuss the major shortcomings of carbon footprints and how they can be solved.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas emissions caused by a person, organisation, or product. It is measured in units of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e), allowing different greenhouse gases to be compared. Carbon dioxide equivalent is based on the global warming potential of these greenhouse gases.

Six

Six greenhouse gases. From Earth Untouched.

 

Types of Carbon Footprinting

A footprint can measure the emissions of an organisation or a product. Organisational footprints show the emissions from all the activities of an organisation, such as the energy used to heat and cool offices, industrial processes, or company travel. Product activities show emissions over the whole life cycle of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to final disposal.

Here, we are going to focus on organisational footprints.

Scopes in Carbon Footprinting

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is a widely used standard that sets out how to account for greenhouse gas emissions for organisations, splitting up emissions into three groups called “scopes”:

 

scopes.jpg

Scopes 1-3 in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Designed by Carbon Analytics. Please ask for permission before reproducing. info@co2analytics.com

 

Why bother? What are the benefits?

There are multiple benefits to getting a carbon footprint.

  • It’s a gateway to improvement.
    Reporting on carbon emissions can be the introduction to wider work to reduce carbon emissions. Putting a number to something often makes it easier to track progress compared to a benchmark, develop a plan, and hit targets over time. By quantifying your emissions, you can see how your organisation contributes to global emissions and what opportunities you have to reduce them.
    Beyond what happens within your four walls as an organization, a carbon footprint also shows you what’s happening within your supply chain.  Proactively managing impacts in your supply chain can help you build a more resilient business, and puts your purchasing power to positive use. Engaging your supply chain is also a great way to engage your employees – encouraging them to be on the look-out for more sustainable alternatives, or working together with suppliers to improve your footprint.
    Carbon footprinting can lead to unexpected insights and action. For example carbon footprinting analysis has generated global conversations around decreasing meat-eating over the past few years. While animal rights campaigns of the past three or four decades appealed to some, explaining the high carbon footprint of a meat-based diet has helped even more people make a change to lower meat consumption. (More info here and here.)

  • It starts conversations and builds awareness for your business.
    Talking about how to reduce a carbon footprint becomes part of a bigger conversation on environmental change-making and cost reduction. These conversations have the potential to have far reaching changes in the supply chain, as suppliers are engaged in not only improving their carbon footprint but helping them identify and eliminate inefficiencies in their own processes.

  • Reducing cost.
    Knowing where and how you spend energy can help you reduce costs. This is not necessarily limited to your electricity provider. Footprinting can also point to inefficiencies in the way a process is done, and can result in cost savings in waste and packaging as well.

  • Increasing brand value.
    Companies that measure their footprints increase their brand value, especially among eco-conscious customers and investors.

Carbon footprinting is a valuable exercise for companies to undertake, but the process has shortcomings and flaws that need to be overcome. Now check out our post “Why Carbon Footprints are Failing Us“!

 

For more general information on the definition of carbon footprints, scopes, etc, check out Carbon Trust’s Carbon Footprinting source.

 

Blurred Lines — How do we know when it’s corporate responsibility or greenwash?

The introductory paragraphs are NSFW if you click the videos. Otherwise SFW content!

Remember that song?

The internet and conversations exploded when it came out. Some people thought that the lines weren’t blurred at all, and that the song was plain rapey and misogynistic. This camp inspired the following excellent parodies:


Some people agreed that the song was indeed racy but liked the catchy tune and pointed out that it really wasn’t that much more misogynistic than most other pop songs — both lyrically and visually. Women’s rights had a lot further to go in 2014 and Robin Thicke wasn’t the only problem.

And many people didn’t see a problem with the song at all.

We have the same diversity when it comes to corporate social responsibility — big companies undertaking initiatives to show their concern for environmental and social issues. We have companies that generally do try to make a difference in the way they operate in order to promote better environmental practices. We have companies that are great at putting out a positive message but not so good at delivering on it. And we have companies that don’t think they are doing anything wrong.

So how do we sort out the “good guys” from the “bad guys”? Where do we draw the line?

The short answer is that the line will always be blurred. But here we hope to focus on a few positive examples that inspire us but also need to be questioned, and to share a few more examples that we think need some more thought on whether they are performing well.

Patagonia is a company well-known for its efforts in sustainability, from its famous “Don’t buy this jacket” ad. In this ad (below), the company admitted its own environmental failings and discouraged consumerism. Patagonia also set up its own system where its owns staff and an external auditor monitored the supply chain of their down from egg to slaughter. Patagonia iis a company that is well known and admired for its consistent efforts to reduce its environmental impacts by making durable, high-quality products that are monitored from cradle to gate and sometimes even beyond (in the case of recycling old jackets).

Patagonia’s 2011 ‘Black Friday’ ad in the New York Times.

IKEA is a complicated case. Steve Howard, the company’s head of sustainability, recently half-joked that the west had reached “peak home furninishings” as part of a more serious point that western consumption had resulted in global peak oil, meat, sugar, and other “stuff”. IKEA has also introduced a series of environmental policies over the past year, such as pledging to invest £755 m in renewable energies and helping poorer communities deal with climate change impacts; it has also pledged that all the energy used to power its shops and factories will come from clean sources by 2020. It missed its target by getting 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2015 by only two months. However, the company made news in 2013 for using a whopping 1% of the world’s wood while at the same time setting a target to double its sales by 2020 — meaning more than doubling the volume of products its sells. Although IKEA has made some efforts to make its use of wood more sustainable — for example by using recycled materials or woods usually discarded — it bought an entire forest in Romania. There are huge issues with deforestation worldwide and in Europe, and in Romania in particular. The company seems likely to use this forest purely to increase the volume of available wood used to make furniture, and not to maintain the delicate ecological balance of the system or to maintain its biodiversity.*

A forest in Romania. Image by Horia Varlan, 2009.   goo.gl/QX91MJ. Creative Commons License 2.0.

A forest in Romania. Image by Horia Varlan, 2009.
goo.gl/QX91MJ. Creative Commons License 2.0.

Fossil fuel companies are notorious for attempting (and often failing) to engage with environmental concerns — this is difficult to do by the very nature of their environmentally harmful business. But these companies are also criticised for the great deal of deception inherent in many of their attempts at sustainability which, upon closer inspection, turn out to be greenwash. Many fossil fuel companies, such as Shell and Total, have built marketing campaigns based on their investments in renewable energy — but these investments usually turn out to be tiny, or do not develop into long-term or successful programs. Fossil fuel companies funded the recent climate talks in Paris (COP21), and came under fire for significantly skewing the discussion and outcome of the Sustainable Innovation Forum.

Photo used (with permission) from www.brandalism.org.uk

Photo used (with permission) from www.brandalism.org.uk

Photo used (with permission) from www.brandalism.org.uk

Photo used (with permission) from www.brandalism.org.uk

Photo used (with permission) from www.brandalism.org.uk

Photo used (with permission) from www.brandalism.org.uk

Many other, less obvious, examples of greenwash exist in abundance. In this short blog post we have tried to some black and white examples companies that are doing their best and those that are not. But very often it isn’t clear who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys”. It’s up to us to make sense of the blurred lines between corporate responsibility and greenwash.

* We are making this claim based on our general knowledge of corporate ecosystem management, but do not have proof or citations. We welcome commentary and information on this point.

Carbon Credits 101: What they are, why they’re controversial, and implications for COP 21

Climate change is now a common topic of conversation, and global society is realising that we need to incorporate climate and broader environmental issues into our social and economic systems.

One of the tools that has been used over the past couple of decades is that of carbon credits.

Understanding carbon credits is important because it is part of a global attempt to mitigate climate change by tieing the cause of the climate change — an economic system dependent on consumption — to reducing emissions. At the same time, the concept and use of carbon credits has come under a lot of scrutiny. The next climate conference–COP21 in Paris–is expected to drastically change the way this and other tools work.

Here’s your chance to finally understand all this business about carbon credits you may have heard floating around occasionally but never got around to getting to grips with!

Where did carbon credits come from?

Carbon credits were introduced under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the internationally-recognised Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol recognised that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions that cause climate change, and thus placed a greater responsibility on them to address this problem. [4]

Under the mechanism, a country with an emission-reduction or -limitation commitment with the Protocol can implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries to compensate for an emission made elsewhere. These projects would earn saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits (also called offsets).

What is a carbon credit?

A carbon credit is a financial investment that represents 1 tonne of CO2, or other greenhouse gases whose effects are equivalent to 1 tonne of CO2 (CO2e), that has been removed or reduced from the atmosphere under an emissions reduction project.

Carbon credits are associated with removing existing CO2/CO2e emissions (for example by planting trees) or by reducing future CO2/CO2e emissions by implementing renewable energy or energy efficiency projects that displace fossil-fuel powered generation production or industrial processes (e.g. by constructing a wind farm).  Each activity has a different “methodology” that accounts how much carbon is avoided.

How do carbon credits work?

There are several actors involved in creating a carbon offset project: there is a verification body that validates how many tonnes of CO2 a project avoids, the the registration body that operates the registry where a buyer can look up your projects, and the company that ultimately buys your credits. In general, to get carbon credits a business needs to calculate its carbon savings against a very specific methodology and get an official body to validate the project.

There is some strategy to the way businesses choose their methodologies, or how they assemble carbon-saving activities into verifiable carbon offset projects. A very “green” manufacturer may seem to be constantly coming up with new “projects” every time they make a batch of green goods that saves X amount of carbon.

What are the regulated markets and the voluntary markets?

In addition to the regulated markets under the Clean Development Mechanism and some regional compliance markets in the USA and Australia, there are voluntary markets and compliance schemes. One of the biggest is Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).

The voluntary markets allow individuals, companies, or non-profits to purchase carbon credits on a voluntary basis to satisfy personal or CSR objectives. As a company or non-profit getting carbon credits for the first time, it is generally easier to get credits on the voluntary market. This voluntary market operates similarly to eBay. [5] Unlike the regulated market, carbon credits on the voluntary market are not actively traded. [5]

As of January, the World Bank valued emissions trading at  $30 billion [6]. When including the voluntary market, carbon trading is worth more –about $176 billion in 2012 [6].

What are some of the problems with carbon credits?

The system of carbon credits has historically been criticised for being “essentially a 
permission slip with a cash value that allows a country or company to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gases” [6] and for promoting, rather than preventing, carbon-intensive industrial activities. The argument is that this allows rich countries to feel better about harmful behaviour, rather than encouraging governments to correct that behaviour [6]. Beneficiaries of the CDM included industrial gas producers (nitrous oxide, refrigeration gases) and dam construction projects. [2]

Carbon credits are also vulnerable to fraud, and are susceptible to not delivering on the promises of low emissions in the future [6,9]. This is largely due to the fact that carbon credits are fundamentally based on carbon, which is not really tangible/palpable.

In August 2015, a study from the Stockholm Environment Institute found that the majority of carbon credits generated by Russia and Ukraine did not represent cuts in emissions and that these credits may have actually increased emissions. [7,8]

For these reasons, credits have fallen in price over the past few years. [1] The European Union’s market, which used to be the main outlet for the Clean Development Mechanism, was restricted and then shut down. [2]

What does the COP21 — the climate talks in Paris — mean for carbon credits?

Over the years, the Clean Development Mechanism has been discussed and various amendments and solutions have been proposed. However, little progress has been achieved because positions on the issue are so radically discordant: while wealthy nations that are high emitters endorsed the continuation of market-based mechanisms, developing countries adopted divergent and contrasting stands. [1]

Some groups have suggested the creation of a “New Market Mechanism” (NMM), involving the implementation of sectorial and cross-sectorial measures, thus scaling up market-based mechanisms beyond project level activities. The USA and Japan have supported the “Framework for Various Approaches” (FVA), which aims at ensuring flexibility for Parties to create a set of components and rules that will ensure an individual crediting systems that helps fulfil internationally agreed targets. [1] Other groups have attempted to draw attention to a non-market GHG reduction solution in correlation with REDD. [1] None of these proposals have yet been able to gather broad consensus. [1]

The COP21 is expected to test business and government commitments to tackling climate change, and is seen as the last chance to come up with a deal to avert 2 degree warming that scientists say is the tipping point to irreversible fallout.

References

[1] “COP21 and the Clean Development Mechanism: Deciding the Future of International Carbon Credits.” Climate Policy Observer, 29 July 2015.

[2] Aline Robert (tr. Samuel White). “COP21 Will End a Decade of Failed Climate Finance.” EurActiv, 18 November 2015.

[3] Lauren Hepler, “COP21 and Decoding the Economics of Climate Change.” GreenBiz, 6 August 2015.

[4] “Kyoto Protocol.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), n.d.

[5] Chris Lang. “Why You Should Not Buy Voluntary Carbon Credits as an Investment: A Carbon Trader Explains.” REDD Monitor. 22 April 2013.

[6] McKenzie, “The Hack That Warmed The World.” Foreign Policy, 30 January 2015.

[7] McGrath, M. “Carbon Credits Undercut Climate Change Actions Says Report.” BBC News, 25 August 2015.

[8] Arthur Nelsen, “Kyoto Protocol’s Carbon Credit Scheme ‘Increased Emissions by 600m Tonnes.” Guardian, 24 August 2015.

[9] Ryan Jacobs. “The Forest Mafia: How Scammers Steal Millions Through Carbon Markets.” Atlantic, 11 October 2013.

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A (re)new(ed) era for environmental stewardship in Canada

Two days ago, Canada voted in a new federal government, ending 10 years of conservative rule which saw the country’s reputation for environmental leadership diminish greatly. After all these years, Canada may finally be positioned to begin the the process of reclaiming its label as “environmental steward”.

The change up of the federal government comes during a year of seismic shift in the enviro-political landscape in Canada. The NDP (Canada’s left-most major political party) are now governing Alberta, the home of the oil sands, promising greater scrutiny of big energy companies. As the conservative stronghold of Canada, often called “Texas of the North”, this was greatly unexpected.

As the token Canadian at Carbon Analytics, I am interested to see how both the federal Liberals and the NDP’s of Alberta progress their environmental agendas.  As a first step, Justin Trudeau – Canada’s new Prime Minister – has promised to work with Canada’s provincials leaders at the COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris. After failing to make bold commitments at previous global  negotiations, the stakes are high for Canada to make a meaningful commitment to global greenhouse gas reductions, and spur its clean tech sector to action to innovate our way toward reaching the ambitious goals that arise.

As a commodity-heavy economy, Canada cannot entirely detach itself from fossil fuel production overnight, but this Canadian believes there is great opportunity to bring more transparency and accountability to the industry, and create progressive policies to speed up the growth of the green economy.