Filed in Construction, Development & Real Estate , Eco-Innovation , Energy , Environment & Climate , September 16 2016
Can a city be sustainable? That’s what our 2016 edition of State of the World investigates. In his chapter, “Reducing the Environmental Footprint of Buildings,” author and project co-director Michael Renner explains what actions cities can take to make their buildings greener.
Buildings are some of the biggest users of materials and water, consume nearly half of the world’s energy, and contribute almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions. With more buildings sprouting up every year and existing ones often being inefficient, cities have begun to tap into their toolkit of policies to help reach sustainability goals.
Four Methods That Work
Tapping into their policy toolkits, municipalities around the world are using a blend of building codes and permits, zoning regulations, building performance ordinances, and other mandates and regulations. Taxes and other financial policies can provide additional incentives. Subsidies can reduce the upfront cost of retrofits and ensure that lower-income residents are not left behind.
Here are four tactics that cities and their residents are using to push toward urban sustainability:
1. Building Certifications
Hundreds of green certifications exist today, ranging from standards for equipment and appliances (such as Energy Star and WaterSense) to certifications for entire buildings (such as BREEAM and LEED). ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , July 18 2016
Human nature often resists change. We struggle with moving from familiar surroundings to new, unknown territories. Yet, when it comes to the greatest single challenge we face today, our resistance to change will surely cause massive, uncontrollable, and unforeseeable changes.
Climate change is upon us. We know with certainty that our behavior is impacting the planet we inhabit. The last time atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were this high was millions of years ago, long before Homo sapiens appeared. This places us in an entirely new era of risk, for which we have no precedent or reliable benchmark.
Climate change is the ultimate systemic risk. Its potential impacts will be global and will be disproportionately afflicted on the most vulnerable members of our civilization. Its profound disruptions will result in the indiscriminate extinction of species. Those who are most vulnerable to the changes brought on by climate change will be those who have least contributed to it.
Many individuals and organizations are considering divestment of fossil fuel companies in their investment portfolios. New York State Senator Liz Krueger proposed legislation for divestment of fossil fuel companies from its public pension funds, the Rockefeller Foundation announced their intention to divest, and more than 500 ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , July 18 2016
A Changing Climate
By 2050, the world will consume 61 percent more energy than it does today. This should be good news, for, as access to reliable, affordable energy increases, so does the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people. Energy keeps schools and businesses running, computers working, cities shining, and cars moving. Without the availability of energy, the global poverty rate could not have dropped by more than half since 1990, allowing the opportunity to improve lives across a wide sphere.
Extending Progress to the Developing World
The developed world has seen great progress in renewable energy. Today, in the United States, virtually all new additions to power capacity come from sustainable sources. However, much of the future energy demand in the world will come from developing countries as they continue to grow and add more citizens to the middle class. This is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges that we face today. How can we ensure that the most threatening climate change consequences are avoided, but also ensure equitable access to energy? The answer, of course, is renewable energy, and the attendant electrification of products and services once serviced by fossil fuels.
The Leapfrog Effect
Unlike the United States, many ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , June 3 2016
The energy world is changing fast. Investments in renewable energy are outpacing investments in traditional energy. But both traditional power providers and startups are struggling to find viable business models for an industry in transition.
Among the first to feel the sweeping changes in the energy sector were utilities in developed countries that have a high share of renewables in the electricity mix. But now, more industries that rely on traditional energy sources are feeling the heat.
Shifting Toward Sustainable Energy
The overall business environment is shifting toward a clean energy future. In April 2016, 177 countries signed the ambitious Paris Climate Agreement. In response, companies are beginning to improve their sustainability footprint and are adjusting product portfolios and corporate strategies.
Despite the enthusiasm and well-meaning political support, it still seems difficult for businesses to thrive in this global energy transition. So far, the transition has undermined traditional energy markets without yet having created functioning new markets. Both risk-taking, disrupting pioneers as well as the asset-heavy, path-dependent incumbents are often at a loss.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Existing, large energy companies will find it difficult to succeed in the new energy future. They would have to risk a lot (but what is their alternative?). Yet their shareholders ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , May 5 2016
Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are growing faster than those from any other sector. With the transportation sector already accounting for nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, investing in public transportation is a critical strategy to address global climate change.
Strategies to curb transport emissions, such as by transitioning to electric vehicles, depend primarily on pushing forward new efficiency-maximizing technologies for transportation networks and individual vehicles. Yet adoption rates have been slow, in part because vehicle owners and transportation providers lack the resources to finance the transition of their fleets.
How Can the Transportation Transition Begin?
Creative financing for the transport sector can be adapted from existing efforts to improve energy efficiency in buildings. The building sector has benefited from the involvement of ESCOs, or businesses that fund and install energy-saving equipment, charge the building owner a fee to pay back for this installation, and guarantee that the costs will not exceed the financial savings associated with the new product or system.
Who Could Champion the Shift?
A T-ESCO requires a handful of direct stakeholders, including: an entity interested and willing to play the part of the ESCO; a client or fleet manager interested in reducing energy consumption; and an ... Read More
Filed in Ecosystems, Wildlife & Biodiversity , Energy , Environment & Climate , November 21 2014
One way that you as a conscious consumer can have an impact on an industry is to use your purchasing power to encourage businesses to act responsibly. The GreenPages Directory can help you find the type of company you want to do business with by filtering results according to benchmarks that are most important to you. One basic method for this is to conduct a search that filters according to which certifications and labels a product or business has attained.
The purpose of any certification or labeling program is to ensure that companies adhere to specific criteria that reach the level of quality standards set by a regulatory body for the given industry. These programs are either officially mandated or they are voluntary, and for our purposes, mandatory regulations can be thought of as legally binding rules set by the government that can include everything from the way a product is manufactured to whether or not it functions as it claims to do. In order for a government label to be mandated, however, it has to be passed by a governmental regulatory agency, folded into a law, and then enforced through inspection. Violation of these standards, for instance a meat-packing firm ... Read More
Filed in Energy November 10 2014
Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I still lived in Berlin, my favourite November 9th activity was to go to the bridge where the Wall was first breached in 1989 – the Boesebruecke. I’d sit on the cold damp concrete of the bridge, pop the cork on a mini-bottle sekt (similar to champagne) and just wonder what it was like to be there that night.
In recent years, I have become more curious about how East Germans brought down the Wall and how I can apply those lessons to my own efforts to stop the tar sands. But even after telling the ‘Fall of the Wall’ story for five years as a Berlin tour guide, I still do not fully comprehend how and why it happened. I know the steps that led to the downfall of the Wall though.
With TransCanada applying two weeks ago to build the biggest tar sands pipeline in Canada (Energy East), I started to wonder if stopping the pipelines is our fall of the Wall.
Stopping the pipelines from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Line 9 projects, to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project to Energy East will not by itself shut down the tar ... Read More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , October 29 2014
Hey Mr. Green,
My 10-year-old electric water heater uses about 5,000 kilowatt-hours a year. Should I wait until it dies or replace it now? If the latter, what’s the most energy-efficient water heater on the market?
—Randi, in Putnam Valley, New York
Holy starry dynamo of night! Your water heater alone uses almost twice as much electricity as my entire house. At New York’s average residential rate of 19.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, you could be spending $1,000 a year to feed that energy hog. I’d rather take cold showers with Dick Cheney and Mitch McConnell than shell out that much.
Depending on where your energy comes from, conventional electric water heaters can suck up even more fossil fuel energy than gas heaters since two-thirds or more of the fossil energy that makes electricity gets used up as heat and in transmission.
So, to replace or not to replace your electric water heater?
Read the entire story in Sierra Magazine, originally published on the Sierra Club website (www.sierraclub.org): http://sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-6-november-december/green-life/mr-green-should-i-replace-my-water-heaterRead More
Filed in Energy , Environment & Climate , September 29 2014
The reality is that the market is changing. Climate responsibility aside, Sierra Club Canada Executive Director John Bennett asks, “is it really wise to stake Canada’s future on dirty, low quality tarry oil that is expensive to produce, expensive to process, expensive to transport and costly to refine?”
The message Bennett had in his heart when he took part in The People’s Climate March in New York on Sunday, September 21 echoed a speculative conversation he had with an oil executive a few years back.
Bennett said to the executive that “Canada Ratified the Kyoto Protocol and committed to reduce emission to 6% below 1990 levels and until 2006 Canada had a plan to reach that target. You had your friends throw that away. Get it back. Then get us a commitment to reduce emission continually until Canada and its oil industry have done everything possible to avoid a climate disaster. Then we’ll have a deal.”
Read more on John Bennett’s blog, originally published on the Sierra Club Canada website (www.sierraclub.ca):Read More
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