Could the United States reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2050?  A new report released this week says yes by assessing the potential for reducing petroleum consumption.  The National Research Council report, “Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels” found that by the year 2050, the U.S. may be able to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80% for light-duty vehicles (cars and small trucks) through a combination of more efficient vehicles, the use of alternative fuels such as biofuels, electricity and hydrogen and strong government policies.

The most logical starting point, offering an economical and easy-to-implement approach, is improving the efficiency of conventional vehicles.  However, improved efficiency alone will not meet the 2050 goals because the average fuel economy of vehicles on the road would have to exceed 180 mpg; a scenario the report says is extremely unlikely given current technologies.  This is not to say that improved efficiency doesn’t play a role.  “To reach the 2050 goals for reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient, regardless of how they are powered," said Douglas M. Chapin, principal of MPR Associates, and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  Fuel efficiency measures center around decreasing the work the engine must perform, including: reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic resistance, rolling resistance, and accessories as well as improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine powertrain. 

The report examined current capabilities and estimated future performance and costs by vehicle type, including: hybrid electric vehicles (e.g. Toyota Prius), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (e.g. Chevrolet Volt), battery electric vehicles (e.g. Nissan Leaf), hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (e.g. Mercedes F-Cell, slated for 2014 introduction) and compressed natural gas vehicles (e.g. Honda Civic Natural Gas).  Non-petroleum-based fuel options, also called alternative fuels, which could significantly contribute to the GHG reduction goal, were also analyzed, including: three biofuels (corn-grain ethanol, biodiesel and lignocellulosic biomass), electricity, hydrogen and natural gas.  Although natural gas was considered, its greenhouse gas emissions are too high for the 2050 goal.

There are pros and cons to each of the scenarios that combine various alternative fuels and vehicles.  For example, the study committee analyzed corn-grain ethanol and biodiesel biofuels, but found much greater potential in lignocellulosic biomass, which includes crop residues like wheat straw, switchgrass, whole trees, and wood waste.   The beauty of this alternative fuel is that it can be used without major changes in fuel delivery infrastructure or vehicles.

Electric powered vehicles do not emit greenhouse gases, but the process of generating electricity often does so the report stresses the importance of successful carbon capture and storage.  The additional load on the electric power grid is also a factor that must be considered.  Furthermore, the batteries essential to these vehicles may limit the use of all-electric vehicles to local driving because of their close range and long recharge times.  Serious technical challenges await advanced battery technologies under development.

Next the report considered using hydrogen as a fuel cell in electric vehicles.  The pro is that the only vehicle emission is water; the con is that greenhouse gases are emitted during hydrogen production.  There are low-greenhouse gas methods of making hydrogen, but they are currently expensive and require further development to become competitive.  Another pro is that fuel cell vehicles do not have the same limitations as battery vehicles, but the con is the cost and difficulty entailed in revamping the current fuel infrastructure to fuel cells.

"Alternative fuels to petroleum must be readily available, cost-effective and produced with low emissions of greenhouse gases. Such a transition will be costly and require several decades. The committee's model calculations, while exploratory and highly uncertain, indicate that the benefits of making the transition, i.e. energy cost savings, improved vehicle technologies, and reductions in petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions, exceed the additional costs of the transition over and above what the market is willing to do voluntarily," said Chapin.  So to address the barriers to implementation of these technologies, the report suggested adaptive policies such as investment in research and development (R&D), subsidies, energy taxes or regulations to achieve the desired reductions.

The report cannot tell the future, but the best approach is to promote a portfolio of vehicle and fuel R&D.  Both industry and government must support efforts to solve critical challenges.  Meanwhile, evaluation should be ongoing to see which technologies emerge as the most promising and cost-effective.

For many of our CarbonFree® Small Business Partners, it’s important to balance their intentions to provide sustainably-produced products to customers while minimizing their operational impact on the environment.  These goals often require careful choices and thoughtful decisions in order to achieve the right equilibrium and stay true to the mission and goals of the business.  New CarbonFree® Business Partner Just Skin Food struggled with this balancing act until they reached the right approach.       

Just Skin Food offers handmade organic and naturally synthetic-free “skin food” products that support, nourish and heal.  All of the herbal oils, salves and balms are made by hand, by using various infusing methods of organic herbs with unrefined, steam-distilled and cold-pressed ingredients.  Most products are vegan, and all products are cruelty free and GMO-free.  

Just Skin Food was started by Gabriella Calvi-Rooney.  When she first launched Just Skin Foods, she chose NOT to sell anything online – she felt that generating a larger carbon footprint through packaging and shipping small quantities of her products was counter-intuitive to the healing that she hoped her products would accomplish.  As a result, her products were offered locally in the Cape May, NJ area or hand-delivered by Gabriella when she traveled to other areas.    

In a very short time, customer demand was so great that Gabriella felt compelled to create a website to enable customers to order her herbal products online.  Now Gabriella had to decide how to minimize the carbon footprint for shipping such small items. 

The CarbonFree® Business Partnership program was established to help businesses like Just Skin Foods address their impact on the environment.  The program provides a simple, affordable means through which products and services can be delivered to customers while neutralizing operational emissions and supporting carbon reduction projects around the world. 

Joining the CarbonFree® Business Partnership program was an easy and affordable solution that neutralized carbon emissions from Just Skin Food's operational activities and projected product shipments.  Gabriella also established a minimum online order size, reuses shipping boxes from vendors, and only ships twice weekly to reduce carbon emissions associated with post office trips and shipments.  In addition, she chose to use organic freshly popped popcorn as packaging material, which can be fed to the birds.

If your business is re-evaluating its social and environmental responsibilities and needs to its reduce operational impact, consider the example of Just Skin Food and the solutions we provide through our CarbonFree® Business Partnership program. 

 

Monday, 18 March 2013 10:53

Dangerous Global Appetite for Fossil Fuels

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Many people have read in the news about how the United States is tapping into unprecedented natural gas reserves through the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas.  Drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback. 

Or they’ve read about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that is seeking approval to move oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands down through the western United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast.  There is evidence that extracting oil from the sands are increasing levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes far beyond natural levels.

The latest news in accessing exotic forms of carbon comes from Japan, where their government announced that they’ve successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrates, also called clathrates, buried beneath the sea bed.  Clathrates are an ultra-concentrated frozen mix of water and gas.  A cubic meter of clathrate contains 164 times as much methane as a cubic meter of methane gas.  Extraction of methane hydrates opens up the possibility for a catastrophic release of gas in the form of accidents during the extraction process.  Even releasing a small amount of clathrates could contribute significantly to climate change.

Governments and corporations worldwide need to stop spending hundreds of billions of dollars searching for new fossil fuel reserves and discovering ways to extract ever more unusual forms of buried carbon.  And we need to stop giving them incentives to do so.  Yes, it is hard to want less and do less, but for the sake of our planet’s health we need to curb our global appetite for fossil fuels.  Let’s start by lowering our carbon footprints.  Then we need to agree to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

According to a detailed estimate, we need to leave four-fifths of global fossil fuel reserves untouched for a good chance of preventing more than 2°C of global warming.   The worst part is we have already identified more underground carbon than we can afford to burn between now and the year 3000.  Now is the time to implement a low carbon lifestyle.  We should do it for our planet, ourselves and for the sake of future generations.

A basic tenet of business leadership is to lead by example, “walk the walk and talk the talk” and “practice what you preach.”   CarbonFree® Business Partner AQS Management Systems leads by the example of “practicing what they teach” in the area of environmental sustainability.

AQS Management Systems, Inc. provides a broad range of consulting, ISO training, coaching, and project assistance in support of organizational improvement programs and implementation of international management system standards.  As part of their training platform, AQS provides training on Environmental Management Systems (ISO 14001) to organizations throughout the country and world.

AQS knows that it is important to “practice what they teach”, and to do what they can to be good corporate citizens by diminishing wasteful activity and encouraging other businesses to do the same.

For the past five years as a CarbonFree® Business Partner, AQS has supported Carbonfund.org’s energy efficiency projects with donations that equate to neutralizing the electricity consumption from ten average US households during each of those five years.

"I did a lot of research and thought that Carbonfund.org looked like one of the most reputable organizations in the area,” states Ben Ames, Vice President of AQS Management Systems.  “It was important to us that the money we paid was used responsibly and we felt that the 3rd party audits and other corporate clients of Carbonfund.org were a good sign."

Carbonfund.org commends AQS for their continued commitment to the CarbonFree® Partnership program and to environmental sustainability as part of their overall mission to provide excellent training to other businesses in the area of environmental and organizational improvement strategies.

As we continue to celebrate fifth and sixth anniversaries with many of our CarbonFree® Business Partners, new businesses are joining our partnership ranks as part of their environmental commitment. 

New CarbonFree® Business Partner Beautycounter launched with its skin care line on March 4, 2013. Beautycounter’s mission is to educate families about the need for safer chemicals and beauty care products, and to be a part of the solution by creating safe and effective skin care and beauty products in a socially and environmentally responsible way.  Beautycounter was founded by a team of social entrepreneurs who believe in using the power of business and strategic partnerships to move in the right direction.

One of these right decisions was joining the CarbonFree® Business Partnership and CarbonFree® Shipping Emissions programs, neutralizing all annual carbon emissions from general business operational and from shipping their products to customers.  Through the CarbonFree® programs, Beautycounter is supporting Carbonfund.org’s energy efficiency projects around the world.         

“In order to be successful in business and in our social mission, we have to reject the short-term thinking that got all of us into the current environmental crisis,” explains Mia Davis, Vice President of Health & Safety.  “Beautycounter recognizes that we can’t do it alone—strategic partnerships are absolutely necessary to create meaningful, lasting change. We’re proud to partner with Carbonfund.org to offset our carbon emissions, and for guidance on reducing our overall footprint.” 

Beautycounter maintains an extensive list of chemical ingredients that will never be used in their products, which contain no hidden fragrances or preservatives.  Beautycounter also prohibits testing of their cosmetics on animals, makes every effort to use FSC-certified paper and post consumer recycled content in both paper and plastic materials, and sources plastics that do not leach toxic chemicals and that are recyclable in most communities.

These comprehensive initiatives demonstrate Beautycounter’s forward thinking approach to entering the beauty and skin care industry as a responsible leader in environmental sustainability, and Carbonfund.org is pleased to be a partner in their efforts.

 

Friday, 08 March 2013 13:43

Global Energy Focus on Renewables

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Those of us living in the United States can easily get wrapped up in the domestic energy picture, but it is important to stop and take a look at how renewables are doing in other countries too.

If you peruse a list of countries by 2008 emissions, the top emitter of carbon dioxide is currently China, followed closely by the U.S.  China accounts for 23.5% of world emissions, and the U.S. is responsible for 18.27%.  However, the good news is that China’s renewable-energy industry is currently on the upswing due to supportive government policies and generous subsidies; so much so that they’ve achieved the height of the world’s wind and solar industries.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything is made in China.”  The U.S. does import many goods from China, but a report released this week titled, “Advantage America” analyzed trade between the two countries in solar, wind and smart-grid technology and services in 2011. 

The analysis, by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Pew Charitable Trusts, showed $6.5 billion in renewable energy technology and services traded between the U.S. and China.  But the U.S. sold $1.63 billion more to China than it imported. 

It’s good to see both countries making such strides in renewable energy.  Oftentimes, the countries are perceived as being in competition with one another, but a more accurate picture would be that they are interdependent.  The bottom line is that both countries should be doing as much as possible to focus on renewables, especially considering they’re the top two carbon dioxide emitters on the planet.  And the global interest and investments in renewables doesn’t stop there.

Saudi Arabia, a country with the world's second largest oil reserves, is beginning a green revolution.  This week, Saudi King Abdullah revealed ambitious plans to develop renewable energy programs that will produce 54,000 megawatts of electricity by 2032 as part of a strategy to save 1.2 million barrels of their oil per day for export.

King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-Care) is a strategy paper set up by King Abdullah in 2010 to develop alternative energy sources so the country won't have to burn millions of barrels of oil a year on power generation.  KA-Care outlines the preliminary phases of the kingdom's agenda for its energy future and focuses on thermal solar, photo-voltaic solar, wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy.  Much of the desert landscape in the Persian Gulf is well suited to solar energy production; a fact that has not escaped the Saudi’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

The UAE, with 8% of the world's proven oil reserves, has also embarked on a major renewables program, which focuses on nuclear and solar energy production.  By taking a look at the global energy picture, we see that even those countries with vast fossil fuel resources recognize the finite limitations of their reserves and the importance of investing in sustainable energy projects, which is great news in the fight against climate change.  Every country on the planet contributes to global warming, and every country will have to do their part in order to pave the way to a sustainable energy future.

Even as we hail President Obama’s nomination of the very qualified Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we’re barraged by news articles filled with warnings about the immediate and highly damaging effects of the budget sequestration on the environment.

Specifically, the budget cuts implemented last Friday will significantly impact the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the National Parks Service, and also will impair disaster relief funding, renewable energy development projects, and scientific research that could benefit environmental protection programs.

In his letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, outgoing Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined the severity of the sequestration’s impact on the DoE’s role in nuclear weaponry monitoring, environmental clean-up efforts, clean energy technology development and on basic scientific research. 

Chu’s statements regarding the funding cuts to clean energy technology projects were particularly forceful:  "Under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the Nation's transition into a clean energy economy, and could weaken efforts to become more energy independent and energy secure, while spurring overall economic growth."

This prognosis is counter to the President’s messages in his second Inaugural Address, calling for a serious response to the threat of climate change, and in the speech he delivered later on Inauguration night this past January calling for progress in “…freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”  

The EPA will suffer budget cuts resulting in employee layoffs and furloughs that will delay the finalization of rules governing the greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants, and will reduce the number of environmental inspections and environmental regulatory enforcement efforts.  And funding cutbacks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will result in elimination of a number of firefighter and state and local emergency management positions, hampering disaster relief efforts.    

The National Parks Service will lose over $100 million.  This will delay park openings, reduce park entry access and visitor services, and according to Mother Jones, will also eliminate millions of dollars in tourism revenue that would otherwise support local economies.

The environmental impacts of the sequestration cuts will affect state-funded initiatives as well.  The Washington Post published a chart of the state-by-state budget cuts due to sequestration in various categories, including clean air and water programs.  Most states will experience multi-million dollar reductions in funding for environmentally-focused projects and protection measures. 

While Obama’s second Inaugural Address in January assured that “…we will respond to the threat of climate change,” and Vice President Biden urged environmentalists to “Keep the faith” at the Green Ball on the eve of the second Inauguration, the far-reaching and immediately damaging effects of the sequestration cuts do not bode well for the climate activist faithful. 

Rhetoric is being trumped by reality at the moment.  We environmentalists cannot drop our collective guard or slack off the pressure to ensure that progress to protect our environment and address the damaging effects of Climate Change is made – now and continuing into the future. 

The continuing focus on Corporate Social/Environmental Responsibility (CSR) programs requires companies to seek out environmentally sustainable practices in every aspect of their operations.  While many businesses rely upon product packaging and shipment to reach their customers, they can “green” these activities through careful selection of shipping products, including the labels they use to address and mail their products. 

Carbonfund.org business partner Taylor Label is committed to manufacturing its ‘GoGreen’ Labels through a process it calls 'Green-Cycle Production’.  This process focuses on the use of environmentally sound raw materials, 100% wind-powered production facility, FSC-certified paper and environmentally benign and recyclable adhesives.

In addition, Taylor Label has neutralized 100% of the carbon emissions from shipping its products to customers through the CarbonFree® Shipping program for the past five years.  "Carbonfund.org has products specifically suited to our needs. Their partnership managers and website make accessing their services a straight-forward and successful process," explains Lloyd Taylor, President of Taylor Label.

Taylor Label has been voted the "Most Environmentally Progressive Printing Company" at the annual Environmental Printing Awards, developed the industry’s first Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified label stock and became the first FSC-certified label manufacturer in North America. Taylor Label is also the founding member of 'Canada's Green Printers', a not-for-profit organization designed to help printers share environmental best-practices within the industry.  Their comprehensive and long-term commitment to environmentally-responsible product development, manufacturing and shipment underscore Taylor Label’s leadership in sustainability within the shipping label industry. 

Friday, 01 March 2013 13:15

Arbor Teas 100% CarbonFree for Sixth Year

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Even the most environmentally sensitive businesses know that their annual operations contribute to the increase in carbon emissions in our atmosphere, but the businesses that are truly committed to operational sustainability are taking simple and affordable steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

For the past six years, CarbonFree® Business Partner Arbor Teas has neutralized its annual operational emissions and its product shipment emissions in partnership with Carbonfund.org.  Arbor Teas retails one of the largest selections of USDA-certified organic loose leaf teas from around the globe, most of which is Fair Trade, through its on-line store.  In addition, Arbor Teas is committed to making a positive impact on the environment and has taken many steps to reduce emissions by offering only organic teas, reducing and “greening” its packaging and using renewable energy sources.  However, their teas come from all corners of the world, so the shipping emissions are unavoidable.  To mitigate these emissions, Arbor Teas has maintained a CarbonFree® Shipping program to offset the carbon footprint of annual product shipment emissions, and to offset all internal operational emissions, by supporting Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects.

“It makes no sense at all to sell an organic product if the method of delivering it to our customers is environmentally harmful,” says Jeremy Lopatin.  “Although we do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint, we’re happy to partner with Carbonfund.org to offset what we can’t avoid… yet!”

Almost three years ago, Arbor Teas became the first tea company to deliver its full line of organic loose teas in 100% backyard compostable packaging. With the release of this next generation packaging, Arbor Teas advanced its environmental mission, continuing to lead the tea industry through its staunch commitment to sustainable business practices.  For the first time ever, tea drinkers are now able to compost their tea leaves AND tea packaging together in their home composting system. This innovative packaging is composed of a cellulose film made from wood pulp sourced from sustainably-managed trees, and the films used for Arbor Teas’ new packaging breaks down in a backyard compost setting.

Carbonfund.org applauds Arbor Teas’ long-term commitment to maintaining its CarbonFree® Operations and Shipping programs, and to its continuing innovation in the areas of product packaging and sourcing. 

Most of the time, we do not take into account the complete costs to producing or consuming a good or service.  This is because we focus on the explicit costs.  For example, if we were to bake a loaf of bread, we would take into account the cost of the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, milk, and butter.  Perhaps we would even calculate our labor time to make the dough and the cost of running the oven, but would we account for the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere for the delivery truck that delivered the baking supplies?  How about the CO2 emissions from the power plant burning fossil fuels to generate the electricity to run the oven?  The problem is that we are not required to bear the full cost of production.  Some of the costs to bake that loaf of bread were shifted to society as a whole. 

Even if we did not bake the loaf of bread ourselves, we’re still shifting costs to society as a whole just by consuming it.  Our cars burn gasoline to drive to and from the grocery store, and regardless if we walked or biked, gasoline was likely also burned to deliver the bread to the grocery store in the first place.  Sure the delivery truck paid for the gasoline, but many companies do not pay for the carbon emissions their operations generate.

We need to make some drastic changes to avoid the ills of global warming, which we are beginning to see affect our daily lives, but the logistics of transforming our world’s energy system can be intimidating.  The first thing we need to do is get off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources.  Easier said than done, I know.  It will be a complex and time-consuming process converting power plants, vehicles/transport systems, homes and commercial buildings.  Unfortunately, time is not on our side here.  We really need to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. 

So then the question becomes how can we transition the world’s energy infrastructure to sustainable sources by mid-century?  One of the ways suggested is to implement a tax on CO2 emissions that begins low and gradually increases.  There should be no mystery either about how much and at what intervals over time the tax will rise.  Then people, businesses and governments can plan their fossil fuel exit strategy.

The revenues the carbon tax generates should be directed into subsidizing renewable energy innovation and overhauling energy infrastructure. 

Ideally, the carbon tax should be global.  Again there are logistical challenges to this climate change solution.  The key is that we need a systematic and practical process.  Isn’t it time we started taking responsibility for the full costs of production and consumption?  Society is bearing the cost as a whole, and society as a whole needs to be part of the solution.