Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mother Nature vs. Tech: How Technology is Affecting the Environment

There is no denying the many positive effects of technology in today's society, and its necessity in people's daily lives has become widespread. As a result, the amount of energy being used increases as technology advances further. This phenomenon raises the question: Do the negative effects of progress outweigh its benefits?

Image source: dannyking23.wordpress.com
Benefits of technology

Society today thrives in technology, and it is used in all aspects of daily living. From transportation to business to education, technology has indeed permeated the entire world.

Technology has made everything easier, faster, and more efficient and productive with less effort. Among the most useful devices and gadgets are cars, smartphones and computers, all of which many cannot live without. Even in the household, technology has become essential. Television sets and high-tech appliances (i.e. dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers) have become standard fixtures in most homes.

The downside technology

As much as technology has made human life more convenient, so is its effect on the environment troubling. The mass use of electronics has continually increased energy consumption. The process of energy production is one of the main reasons for air pollution, which will continue to destroy the earth's atmosphere if not remedied. Among other contributors to pollution are greenhouse gases from household products and appliances as well as the smoke and fuel combustion from cars.

Image source: hdrinc.com
A lot of human actions contribute to the destruction of Mother Nature but it is not too late to stop it. Find our more ways to help the environment by following Janique Goff on Facebook.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Renewably Good: The Benefits of Biofuels

With the lessening supply and increasing price of oil and gas, alternative sources of energy find their way into the global market. Among these alternative energy sources is the biofuel.

Biofuels are fuels extracted from plants and crops, most commonly from corn and sugar. However, biofuel source is not limited to these as sometimes it is extracted from animal fats or recycled greases. Bioethanol, or simply ethanol, and biodiesel are the most common of these biofuels.

By simply looking at its definition, you would know why biofuel starts to become an important alternative source of energy today.

The price of crude oil soars every day, considering that this type of energy source is limited. Although the supply of crude oil is still far from reaching its end, it does not remove the fact that it will come to an end. For this reason, biofuels are making a name in the energy industry. Biofuels are renewable and sustainable since it is extracted from plants and crops, which can be readily produced when needed. Unlike fossil fuels, plants and crops can be replanted again and again.

Image sourcehowstuffworks.com
Another benefit the planet receives when people use biofuels is its potential to reduce greenhouse gases. On the one hand, fossil fuels, when burnt, releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases that trap sunlight and cause global warming. On the other hand, studies show that biofuels reduce greenhouse gases up to 65 percent. Although the production of biofuels creates carbon dioxide as a byproduct, this same carbon dioxide will serve as food for the same plants where biofuel is extracted. This makes it something close to a self-sustaining system.

Janique Goff supports eco-friendly business startups including those that develop renewable energy sources such as biofuels. Learn more about renewable energy sources here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

REPOST: Why Tesla is backing batteries

Electric car manufacturer Tesla is branching out to batteries with efficient energy storage, which have profound implications beyond just powering its cars. According to the BBC, it's all in the name of good business.

Image Source: bbc.com
Powerwall uses the same basic batteries found in many electronic gadgets

Car maker Tesla has unveiled plans to start making large batteries that can be used to store power in homes and businesses.

It has unveiled two versions of the wall-mounted battery packs and said it hoped to start shipping and installing the devices by the summer.

BBC News looks into the announcement and its implications.

Why is a car maker helping power homes?

The same technology used to power Tesla cars, a lithium ion battery, will also be used in the large battery packs it is about to start making.

It is likely that many of the first people to buy a battery pack will be people who already own a Tesla car and are looking for a cheaper way to charge their vehicle.

In many places, charging the car's battery using solar power will be much cheaper than doing it using electricity from the grid.

Aside from this, the battery packs could prove useful to people keen to cut their electricity bill by generating some of the power they use from the sun. Others may use them to store energy bought when it is cheap so they can avoid paying for higher-priced power.

Tesla also has plans to sell the batteries to utility companies as a way for them to store the power they generate at times of low demand.

Are the home batteries the same as those in Tesla cars?

Not exactly. Those in the cars are optimised to charge more quickly than the domestic versions.

Lithium-ion technology is very well established and is used in the majority of gadgets that have rechargeable batteries. Other electric cars use them to store power too.

Before now one of the bottlenecks holding back wider adoption of lithium-ion batteries has been a lack of factories making them. Tesla hopes to address this with the building of what it calls a gigafactory which, when completed in 2020, will be the world's biggest.

The building of the factory, says Tesla, should help drive down the cost of the technology.

Are there other obstacles to large-scale adoption?

Image Source: bbc.com
The cost of installing solar panels and the Tesla battery may be too high for many people

Yes. Cost. The price quoted by Tesla does not include installation of the unit. To this needs to be added the cost of installing solar panels to gather energy.

It might take years for the combination of solar panels and battery to pay for itself.

Tesla claims that its batteries could be useful during disasters when power is knocked out for days. However, well-established generator technologies that are powered by petrol or diesel will probably remain cheaper than lithium-ion batteries for some time.

Despite this, Tesla is working to remove one big obstacle which is getting commercial partners aligned to be able to deliver and install the technology in homes.

Is Tesla the only company doing home power storage?

No. Many other companies and nations are keen to find ways to power energy generated from renewable sources. Sometimes this is because the supply of the power from wind, water and the sun can fluctuate - a reliable store will help smooth out the peaks and troughs.

In addition, some sources of renewable energy, such as solar power, are absent when people need power the most - at night. Again, storing power would help solve this problem.

Home storage of power is also getting more interest because in many nations, established electricity generators are slashing the rates they pay customers who provide them with power from the solar panels mounted on the roof of their home.

In the UK, there are several small-scale trials involving a few hundred homes that are based around systems that store power generated from the sun.

Could the battery systems be used in developing nations?

Image Source: bbc.com
Many regions lack the power infrastructure to keep homes lit at night

Tesla thinks so. However, there can be many reasons why people in such places do not have power. It is not clear that a relatively expensive system such as Tesla's will work well in such locations.

In addition, there are many NGOs and green innovation firms looking at bringing much cheaper, and more robust, power generation systems to developing nations.

What is clear is that although many of these places have an abundant supply of solar power they lack the infrastructure and local expertise that are likely to make the Tesla initiative a success in the US.

Having backed several biotech startups, Janique Goff is an ardent supporter of the development of green technology. Follow her on Facebook for more updates on eco-friendly tech developments.

Monday, April 13, 2015

REPOST: The Future of the Electric Car

The production of electric cars has brought an enormous change in the advocacy for a cleaner environment. This article from Greentech Media provides us a glimpse of where the electric car stands in the current and future market.

There are now over two dozen all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the market and at least two dozen additional models that are slated to be available in the next couple of years. Mercedes alone just announced that it will be offering 10 different plug-in hybrid models in the next couple of years, following a similar announcement by BMW in March.

The world’s best-selling EV is still the Nissan Leaf, a modest little passenger vehicle, with over 165,000 units sold by March of this year since its release in late 2010. A new study found that the batteries have been very reliable, with 99.99 percent of the 35,000 Leafs sold in Europe still working perfectly.

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Tesla Model S are the second and third best-selling EVs today, respectively, even though the Outlander hasn’t yet been made available in the U.S.

Total global sales of EVs/PHEVs amounted to 320,000 units in 2014, an 80 percent rate of growth and on pace to easily exceed 500,000 in 2015. Cumulative sales reached 740,000 vehicles by the end of 2014 and will top 1 million by the middle of 2015. That is still less than 1 percent of the global auto market, but it shows that EVs and PHEVs are here to stay. Global vehicle sales are projected to reach approximately 89 million units in 2015. If global EV sales reach 500,000, this will equate to about 0.6 percent, putting us on track to reach 1 percent of global sales in 2016.

As I described in a previous column, 1 percent is halfway to market dominance in terms of the doublings required to get from nothing to 1 percent and then from 1 percent to 100 percent. It takes seven doublings to get from 1 percent to over 100 percent and the same to go from nothing to 1 percent.

Figure 1: Global EV Sales Through 2014

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

In this column, however, I’m not going to talk about the magnitude of sales in the future. Rather, the future I’m focused on here is the future of EV technology itself. How will EVs evolve in the next decade, the years that are already a little bit visible on the horizon? I’ll focus on three main trends: 1) improving battery technology; 2) lightweighting of vehicles; and 3) automation. Sorry, no (mass-market) flying cars are around the corner -- yet.

Improving battery technology

We can learn a lot by looking at learning curve models for batteries. Today’s prevailing battery technology for EVs is lithium-ion. It’s good, but far from perfect. Even though today’s lithium-ion batteries hold two and a half times the energy they did in 1991 and cost 10 times less, lithium-ion technology is still too energy-diffuse and expensive compared to where it needs to be to become truly mainstream. But we’re well on the way. Figure 2 shows the various battery technologies and fuel cells in terms of their energy density.

Figure 2: Energy Density of Battery and Fuel-Cell Technologies

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

The current holy grail for EV batteries is getting costs down to $100 per kilowatt-hour, down from $250 to $300 per kilowatt-hour today. The expectation is that at this cost, EVs can compete with internal combustion vehicles without subsidies. The exciting development in the last year is that not only is Tesla’s Musk saying that the firm hopes to reach this level in the next decade with production from its Giga factory, but that others are agreeing with him, including the Motley Fool, the independent financial research entity.

Lithium-ion batteries will probably start showing marginal improvements around that time, however, in terms of continuing cost declines and increasing energy density. Most experts today think that lithium-ion batteries will top out at around 400 watt-hours/gram or even less, up from around 250 today. Around that point, it’s likely that we’ll see markets shift toward different technologies in order to continue the trend toward increased energy density.

One new technology that shows promise is lithium-air (also known as lithium-oxygen), which uses ambient air to aid energy flows and results in less degradation than seen in other types of batteries. The long-term holy grail of lithium-air batteries is achieving an energy density on par with gasoline, which is theoretically achievable with this technology, and would allow batteries to take up much less space than they do today. The technology would offer about 10 times the energy density of today’s batteries.

However, the future is not at all clear for lithium-air batteries, and some researchers think they’re a lost cause. Others aren’t ready to bow out yet, including Peter Bruce of the U.K.'s University of St. Andrews: “We are closer to what’s needed than we were a few years ago.

As with Moore’s law and the speed and cost of computing power, we can expect to continue to see major improvements in battery technology in the coming decade. With Tesla and Panasonic throwing literally billions of dollars behind improved lithium-ion batteries, it’s likely that lithium-ion will remain the go-to battery technology for EVs in the next decade. It’s also possible, however, that other types will make major breakthroughs in that same time period and reach the broader market.

My best bet is that we’ll continue to see incremental improvements in lithium-ion energy density, but also continue to see steady decreases in costs. This is the case because costs will decline based on increases in the scale of production and learning curve effects relating to this scale and associated manufacturing techniques, independent of any major improvements in the actual architecture of the batteries. Such improvements will be icing on the cake, but probably not necessary to achieve major improvements over today’s density and costs


Interestingly, we can achieve exactly the same improvement in EV range or reduction in costs by making cars lighter as we can by making more energy-dense batteries. And it may actually be easier to do it by making cars lighter, because there is less of a diminishing return phenomenon in taking today’s relatively heavy cars and making them lighter with the use of new materials and techniques.

We’re already seeing many technologies leading to lighter and more efficient cars, regardless of whether the cars are electric or gasoline or diesel. Some kind of fuel economy standard is in place now for 80 percent of the world’s passenger vehicle market, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. Figure 3 shows the vehicle fuel-efficiency standards for the world’s largest economies at the end of 2014. The general trend that's predicted is a 50 percent reduction in the emissions from passenger vehicles between 2000 and 2025. We’re about halfway to achieving that goal, and it is realistic to expect that the 2020-2025 goals will be met due to the many new technologies arriving that will improve fuel efficiency and decrease GHG emissions.

Figure 3: Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards for Various Countries
Image Source: greentechmedia.com

As a consequence of these trends (and many others), IEA projects, in its 2015 World Energy Outlook, that oil demand will rise to 104 million barrels per day by 2040, up from 91 mbpd in 2014. This is a significant increase, but it’s a large decline from previous forecasts that reflects the increasing role of improved vehicle fuel efficiency around the world. We can anticipate additional vehicle fuel efficiency to materialize in the coming decades, going far beyond the 52.5 miles per gallon requirement under the U.S. CAFÉ standard for 2025.

Many EVs are already quite small. The smallest commercially available model is the Renault Twizy, with over 15,000 already on the road in Europe (it’s not available in the U.S.). The Fiat 500e is tiny (I should know since I drive one), and the Smart ForTwo EV is even smaller. Are we destined for a future filled with electric go-karts? Well, we’ll surely have many more of these truly tiny vehicles on the road, particularly in dense urban areas, but we’re also going to see plenty of normal-size cars becoming increasingly lightweight.

Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have for many years pioneered the “Hypercar” idea that includes a radical redesign when it comes to weight. Lovins describes many aspects of this vehicular evolutionary process in his 2011 book, Reinventing Fire. He states: “Investing R&D effort in vehicle fitness (which got about a hundredfold less in U.S. research budgets through 2010) will yield the same result [as better batteries] with less cost, time, and risk.”

Ford made big news recently by announcing its use of aluminum for much of the frame in its top-selling F-150 line of trucks. The 2015 model is 700 pounds and about 15 percent lighter due to this shift from using steel in favor of using aluminum. Ford is claiming up to a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, due largely to this change in weight. The aluminum used in these trucks is about twice as strong as steel and thus safer in accidents, as well as lighter.

Steel is not giving up without a fight, however, and some companies are planning to use high-strength steel to reduce the weight of cars rather than alternatives like aluminum. ArcelorMittal, a steel manufacturer, released a survey suggesting that pickup trucks could achieve an average 23 percent improvement in weight by using the new high-strength steel products combined with expected improvements in powertrains.

One idea that Lovins has highlighted for years is also starting to come to fruition: carbon fiber vehicle bodies. The BMW i3 compact hatchback is far lighter than comparable cars because, in part, its body is made mostly of carbon composites, the same stuff that modern airplanes are increasingly being made from. This is the first car (let alone EV) to use primarily carbon fiber for its body. Carbon fiber is 30 percent lighter than aluminum and actually stronger. The i3 weighs 2,635 pounds, significantly less than the average weight of 3,000-4,500 pounds for the typical compact car. The Chevy Volt, for example, another highly fuel-efficient car and also officially a compact car, weighs 3,786 pounds. Even the tiny Fiat 500e weighs more than the i3, at 2,980 pounds.

The i3 represents a big shift in long-term trends in car weight, because after a massive drop in the 1970s, in response to the oil crises, most vehicles steadily gained weight from the 1980s through to the present. We can expect, with the federal CAFÉ standards for 2025 being quite aggressive, that other automakers will follow BMW’s lead in terms of using new materials in a long-term quest to create much lighter cars.

Over 20,000 i3s have been sold worldwide since its late 2013 release, and by all accounts, it’s a great car with no issues relating to its carbon frame. U.S. sales of over 1,000 vehicles in February 2015 put the i3 at third place after the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S and well above the Chevy Volt and Prius Plug-in hybrid.


We’re also going to see cars become far more automated. It seems that the hurdles to driverless cars are now largely legal rather than technical, and my feeling is that we’ll have fully autonomous cars in the next few years -- and maybe even sooner for some models.

Tesla has earned a lot of attention when it comes to driverless cars, and it may well lead the pack to achieving a fully autonomous vehicle. Musk has announced a suite of “autopilot” capabilities that are coming via software update this summer to the company’s signature Model S. Musk stated that the new features could in theory allow the car to drive itself from parking lot to parking lot on long drives throughout much of the U.S., but for now, it will be limited to highway driving due to the legal obstacles currently in place.

Many other brands are also working on fully autonomous cars, and most luxury cars have an increasingly sophisticated suite of automated driving abilities. The Audi A7 completed a test drive with its autopilot from the Stanford campus in Palo Alto to Las Vegas, Nev. earlier this year without incident. Mercedes and Cadillac models also have many autopilot features already included, with surely many more features to come.

In sum, it seems pretty likely that we’ll have fully autonomous cars by 2020 or even sooner. That’s pretty cool, and I personally look forward to telling my car to take me to Yosemite for the weekend as I kick back for a nap.

A future column will look at even more exotic aspects of the future evolution of the cars we drive -- and that increasingly will be driving us.

An advocate of a greener and cleaner planet, Janique Goff has been involved in the development of businesses focused on green technology. For more related articles, follow her on Twitter.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

REPOST: Nature camp offers outdoors adventure for kids

Summer camps teach children a lot about the environment, the crucial role it plays in sustaining life on Earth, and how little things can make a strong impact on the preservation of Mother Nature. Get more insights from the article below:

Campers are shown on one of the many field trips provided by Hudson Highlands Nature Summer Science and Nature Camp | Image source: poughkeepsiejournal.com

Although winter is still weighing heavily in the Hudson Valley, spring will be here before you know it, and it’s not too soon to start planning for summer camp for children and teenagers.

The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum is getting ready for summer campers. The Museum’s Science & Nature Camp, for children ages 4-12, takes place in one-week sessions from June 29 until Aug. 28. There is also a two-week program for ages 13-16. The camp features a bucolic setting, small group size and experienced Hudson Highlands Nature Museum staff.

“We are very excited about this year’s summer camp,” education director Lisa Mechaley said in a written statement. “Our experienced staff members bring great strengths to this program and they enjoy sharing science, nature and the outdoors with children.”

Space is limited and early registration is encouraged. Online registration is available. Early drop-off and late pick-up are also offered. There is a 3 percent discount for those who register before April 3.

Here’s a look at this summer’s programming:

•The Ramblers Program is for children ages 4-6. This program meets in week-long sessions at the museum’s Outdoor Discovery Center. Half-day sessions are offered for children ages 4 and 5 from 9-11:45 a.m. and a full-day program is offered for ages 5 and 6 from 8:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Extended hours and a lunch program for the half-day ramblers are an option. Campers will take part in nature adventures, hikes, crafts, games and music. Every week will include a field trip day to the museum’s Wildlife Education Center to meet live animals and experience its exhibits and trails. Parents provide transportation.

•The Trekkers Program is for children ages 7-12. Campers take part in week-long, adventure programs. This camp takes place at the museum’s Outdoor Discovery Center. One day each week is spent exploring the Hudson River at Kowawese Unique Area in New Windsor and another day on a field trip or hike. Campers meet for a six-hour day (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) each week and bring their own lunch, bottled water and snack. Extended hours are an option. Transportation is by chartered bus for field trips. Parents provide transportation to local off-site destinations.

•The Eco-Rangers Program is for children ages 13-16 and features two weeks: July 20-24 and Aug. 10-14. Eco-Rangers will start the week with three days of wilderness adventures, including two day-long expeditions kayaking or canoeing, and hiking or participating in a high ropes course. They will complete the week with one overnight stay, sleeping under the stars with a hammock to keep. Dinner, s’mores, ice cream and breakfast are included. This camp takes place at the museum’s Outdoor Discovery Center, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 6 p.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Friday.

Interested campers can find out more information, become a member or register for camp at hhnm.org and click on “summer camp” or call 845-534-5506, ext. 211.

For more links, news, and insights on environmental protection, follow Janique Goff on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

REPOST: Redefining Business Purpose: Driving Societal and Systems Transformation

With the increasing cost of climate change affecting business returns, sustainable plans are being propagated to reduce environmental impact. This article from Huffington Post relates how collaborations and Sustainable Development Goals can expedite transformations.

Image Source: undp.org

The world faces enormous human development and environmental challenges, from poverty and disease to food security and climate change. Significant progress has been made in the last two decades -- extreme poverty has halved, hunger has reduced and over two billion people have improved access to drinking water.

But huge problems remain. Inequality has widened, one in eight people still go to bed hungry and climate change threatens everything we have achieved since the 1960s. Half a century of progress stands to be wiped out within a generation.

For too long business has sat on the sidelines, either unable or unwilling to be part of the solution to these systemic challenges. But this is now rapidly changing as the limitations of governments and international bodies to resolve them become ever more apparent, as consumers increasingly are demanding change, and as the cost of inaction starts to exceed the cost of action.

The cost of climate change is already high and increasing. The UN Secretary General has calculated that, since 2000, economic losses from natural disasters total around $2.5 trillion. The OECD predicts that, by 2050, over $45 trillion of assets could be at risk of flooding. Accenture has found that significant supply chain disruptions can cut the share price of companies by 7 percent, whilst KPMG estimates that the total profit of the food industry is at risk by 2030.

We are seeing the effect of climate change in our own business. Shipping routes cancelled because of hurricanes in the Philippines. Factories closing because of extreme cold weather in the United States. Distribution networks in disarray because of floods in the UK. Reduced productivity on our tea plantations in Kenya because of weather changes linked to deforestation of the Mau forest. We estimate that geo-political and climate related factors cost Unilever currently up to €300 million a year. This not only impacts our shareholders but with over five million in our supply chain and more than two billion consumers around the world, the repercussions ripple much wider.

As tackling these issues becomes not just a moral but a commercial imperative, a growing number of businesses are stepping up to the plate. Today, three-quarters of the largest companies have set themselves clear social and environmental goals, 4,000 now report on CO2 emissions, and 50 of the top 200 have set an internal price for carbon.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

Our own response is set out in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which has set stretching goals to reduce our environmental footprint and increase our social impact as we grow our business. We are making progress. All of the electricity for our sites in North America and Europe now comes from certified, renewable sources. In absolute terms, CO2 emissions from energy in manufacturing are nearly a third below 2008 levels, water abstraction is down 29 percent and total waste sent for disposal is down two-thirds -- all achieved while increasing production volume. It is making us a more efficient organisation and saving us money -- over €300 million in cumulative avoided supply chain costs since 2008.

However, as combating climate change becomes more urgent, the time has come to look beyond incremental reductions in environmental impacts and increases in social impacts, important though these are. Business can and must make a bigger difference to global challenges by leveraging its scale, influence, expertise and resources to drive transformational change at a systemic level.

This is crucial because the economic system we all live and work within, drive our behaviours and choices, and without changing them we cannot hope to achieve the structural shifts that have to be made. Business is responsible for more than half the world's GDP, so unless we make change happen, we will not see the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) the world needs.

The Better Growth, Better Climate Report, published in 2014 by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, of which I was a member, identified three key systems of the economy where there is huge potential to invest in structural and technological change: Cities, which generate around 80 percent of global output and 70 percent of global energy use and related GHG emissions; energy systems, where renewables and energy efficiency offer significant investment opportunities; and land use. Food production can be increased and land use emissions cut through more sustainable agricultural practices and by protecting forests from further destruction.

Over half of Unilever's raw materials come from farms and forests. That is why we have committed to work with others and to champion sustainable agriculture in areas where we have most influence, to help smallholder farmers to improve their farming practices and livelihoods, and to eliminate deforestation from supply chains.

Image Source: csrwire.com

We also make and market some of the world's leading personal hygiene and household cleaning products, so we have also committed to help provide good hygiene, safe drinking water and better sanitation for the millions of people around the world who are still denied these basic human rights. All three commitments are directly relevant to our business. All three respond to pressing societal needs.

This is not about mitigation. It is about opportunity and aligning our purpose in business with this opportunity. This is the message the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is championing with its Action 2020 roadmap, which sets out the business agenda for action. It is also one of the key findings of the Better Growth, Better Climate Report, which argues that traditional macroeconomic objectives are now best achieved through a decisive shift to a new climate economy, with inclusive, high quality, climate-resilient growth. Although the shift will not be easy, it provides all business sectors with new opportunities to grow.

This is certainly our experience at Unilever. Looking at the world through a sustainability lens not only helps us 'future proof' our supply chain, it also fuels innovation and drives brand growth. Half our agricultural raw materials now come from sustainable sources and we are on track to make that 100 percent by 2020. Our brands with a strong social purpose, such as Pureit water purifiers, Domestos toilet cleaner and Lifebuoy soap, are not only improving millions of lives by helping to tackle the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) agenda. All three achieved double-digit sales growth on average over the past three years. This shows that there doesn't have to be a trade-off between doing well and doing good. On the contrary, purpose driven brands are growing ahead of the market.

The same is true of brands that reduce environmental impacts. A laundry fabric conditioner that reduces the water needed to rinse clothes by two-thirds, dry shampoos that reduce CO2 by around 90 percent compared to washing hair with heated water, ice creams that stay frozen at higher temperatures, and compressed deodorant aerosol sprays with half the propellant gas and 25 percent less aluminium, are just some of the sustainability-inspired innovations that are growing our business.

These do not just come about because our brand managers have built sustainability into their brand development strategies or our R&D scientists have inserted it into their innovation processes. Everyone who works at Unilever is aware of our Sustainable Living Plan goals and understands the importance of this agenda. This is about bringing the challenges of the outside world into the business, making our employees more conscious of the issues and trends that affect our business, and being more open to ideas that push the boundaries of what we do or come from less conventional sources.

Making 2015 A Year Of Change

2015 can be a pivotal year for human development and climate change. In September leaders gather in New York to agree the Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals.

The MDGs have made progress in a number of areas but many challenges remain. As Oxfam's report Wealth: Having it all and wanting more has highlighted, levels of inequality are greater than they have ever been, extreme poverty and hunger still afflict more than 800 million people, and pressures on the planet's resources continue to grow.

The SDGs include ending poverty and hunger, reducing inequality and combating climate change as core goals, achievable by 2030. The SDGs are an agenda for everyone, not just the development community, and will require collaboration across all actors in society. The decision by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to invite me to represent the business community on his High Level Panel to advise on the post-2015 development framework is a mark of the importance the UN attaches to the role of the private sector in co-delivering this agenda.

Then in December, the COP 21 Climate Change Conference in Paris holds out the very real prospect of a global agreement on curbing carbon emissions and the promise of a more stable and sustainable future.

Although run as separate agendas, these two issues - climate and development - are entirely interdependent. We cannot eliminate poverty without enabling developing countries to engage more people in economic activity that use natural resources, and we cannot resolve runaway climate change without creating wealth in a more equitable and less carbon intensive way. Left unchecked, climate change risks not only making the poorest poorer, but pulling the emerging middle classes back into poverty too.

Therefore, 2015 is a critical year. As Lord Stern has said, this year will shape the next 20 years and the next 20 years will shape the century. Whatever governments agree to in New York and Paris, and however high or low their level of ambition proves to be, the reality is that these agreements will succeed or fail by how they are implemented by business on the ground. Business as usual is not an option. We have to find new ways of working and new ways of collaborating to bring about real and lasting change.

Partnerships And Collaboration Will Be Key

These new approaches require business leaders with different mindsets and capabilities -- men and women who can successfully build cross-sector coalitions, who are as familiar dealing with NGOs and policymakers as they are with customers and suppliers, and who are comfortable operating in a more volatile and complex environment. There are no blueprints for how to do this or roadmaps on how to navigate our way towards this brave new world. There is a role management education must play in preparing the business world for a more collaborative future.

I believe the solution is in bringing together the few key players that can make the biggest difference to create the market conditions that can lead to tipping points. It only takes a handful of companies to change together to trigger others to follow and transform whole markets.

This has been the thinking behind Unilever's commitment to play a leading role in helping to end deforestation linked to supply chains. According to the IPCC, deforestation accounts for up to 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a one of the largest contributors to climate change. More than 1.6 billion people worldwide depend directly on forests for food, medicines and fuel, including 60 million indigenous people who are almost entirely dependent on forests for their lives and livelihoods.

Palm oil, a key cause of deforestation, is an important and versatile ingredient found in 50 percent of all consumer goods. Multinational companies account for around 20 percent of all palm oil purchases. That is why, in 2010, all 400 members of the global Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) pledged to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. The CGF includes all the world's major consumer goods companies, representing about 5 percent of global GDP. This has accelerated the number of companies committed to buying 100 percent sustainable palm oil by 2020 or sooner.

This led us to launch the Tropical Forest Alliance at Rio+20 in 2012, a partnership between the CGF and six governments, including Indonesia, a major producer of palm oil, the US and the UK. This in turn led to the New York Declaration on Forests, which took centre stage at the UN Climate Change Conference in September 2014, at which over 170 entities signed up to halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it by 2030.

This new pledge was the first time in history that a critical mass of developed and developing country world leaders partnered around such a goal, which also includes a commitment to restore hundreds of millions of hectares of forest land. Today, with pledges from all the major palm oil producers and most of the world's big manufacturers and retailers, over 70 percent of the world's globally traded palm oil is now committed to be sustainably sourced. Plantations under commitments cover an area the size of Portugal and the resulting savings to the planet is an estimated reduction of 400-450 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2020.

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

While these organizations still have to deliver on their commitments -- so far only 18 percent of palm oil produced is certified sustainable - this shows what companies, governments and civil society can achieve if we align our efforts behind common goals to achieve transformative change.

If the consumer goods sector can do this with deforestation, just think of the difference that could be made if other sectors convene similar coalitions to drive sustainable practices in other commodity supply chains and with other sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

I am optimistic. Momentum is building. Progress is being made. By changing the way we do business, by seeing the transformation to a low-carbon economy as an opportunity to be seized, not a risk to be managed, by looking beyond our own impacts to systemic areas where we can make a transformational difference, and by working with others to achieve shared goals, business can play a much bigger role in helping to create a better future.

But there's no time to lose. The time to act is now.

Janique Goff has been involved in business development, marketing, and advertising, with emphasis on green technology. Learn more about the other initiatives that Ms. Goff supports as an environmental advocate here.

Monday, January 5, 2015

REPOST: Groundbreaking biofuel project brings new life to Cornish mine

An ambitious research in the UK is testing the properties of algae in removing harmful materials from the mine water. While the success of the project remains to be seen, the researchers stress the huge potential of natural resources in treating significant environmental problems. The Guardian has the full story below:

Image Source: theguardian.com

A pioneering research project to clean up a flooded Cornish tin mine is using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals in its toxic water, while simultaneously producing biofuel.

If the project, which is at a very early stage, is proven to work, it could have huge environmental benefits around the world.

The GW4 Alliance, which brings together the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the Coal Authority and waste management group Veolia, is taking untreated mine water samples from the Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall and growing algae in them in a laboratory.

The alliance is exploring whether the algae is effective in removing harmful materials, such as arsenic and cadmium, from the mine water. Researchers hope to convert the algae into a solid from which heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will then be used to make biofuels.

“It’s a win-win solution to a significant environmental problem,” said Dr Chris Chuck from the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies. “We’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel.”

The Wheal Jane mine, near Truro, closed in 1992. But the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is still spending £2m a year on cleaning it up and combating its polluting effects. The project to clean up its acidic water using algae is thought to be the first of its kind in the world.

Dead algae has been used to filter water but the Wheal Jane project uses live algae found at the site to “remediate” its toxic water.

The scientists had initially been interested in the ability of reeds in the flooded area around the mine to absorb toxic substances. But then they started examining the algae on the reeds and realised that it had special properties.

Image Source: theguardian.com

“Some of the algae we’ve found in the Wheal Jane site can actually absorb a lot of the metals that are there,” Chuck explained. “What we don’t quite know are what metals are being absorbed into the [algae] cell and what are sticking to the cell.”

If successful, the scientists believe the technology could be used to treat many forms of environmental pollution. The team has just received funding to take its work to Vietnam, where it will examine whether algae can be used to treat industrial effluent. A cheap, efficient way of cleaning up old mines would be eagerly sought by countries around the world.

“Acidic waste run-off from mines is not a regional issue restricted to Cornwall, it’s a global problem,” said Dr Mike Allen, director of the Algal Biotechnology and Innovation Centre at PML. “It’s a particular problem in the developing world, where costly clean-up and remediation activities are ignored because of their high cost and low return.

“By making the clean-up process pay for itself, we can improve both the health and the environment of millions of people around the world.”

The team hopes to begin a pilot project at the mine in the new year. The aim will then be to scale it up. Ensuring the technology can work on a large scale is considered crucial to its viability.

It is well established that biofuel can be created from algae but the processing costs are so high that it is not considered economically viable. By scaling up the project, those behind it hope production costs can be brought down significantly. But this will involve the cultivation of large amounts of algae.

“We will need a lot of land,” Chuck explained. “The question we need to answer is how can we grow algae in the smallest space possible?”

If this question can be answered, then the pilot project at the mine could provide a sustainable business model for tackling pollution, with money raised from biomass production offsetting the cost of algae cultivation.

“By growing algae in mine water, which is currently expensive to remediate, we are providing an alternative economic model to traditional algal cultivation,” said Dr Chris Bryan, lecturer in sustainable mining and minerals resourcing at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute. “The aim is to reduce the treatment costs while generating value at the same time from the algal biomass.”

However, turning the treated water into usable fuel will be a significant challenge. The water has to be heated at very high temperatures and under high pressure so that nitrogen can be removed. With so many obstacles to overcome, Chuck is wary of talking up the project. But he stressed that its huge potential lay in using natural resources to treat a significant and stubborn environmental problem.

“We are using what’s already there in the environment,” he said. “We are not using GM or anything. We would never advocate using foreign species because we would not know what their impact would be.”

Businesswoman Janique Goff is a big supporter of biofuel projects and other green innovations. Keep updated on the latest trends in sustainable development by liking this Facebook page.