January 2012 Archives Week 2
January 19, 2012 |
Levi Strauss has joined a growing list of corporate leaders who will not buy forest products from Asia Pulp and Paper because of its ongoing involvement in rainforest destruction and human rights abuses in Indonesia.
To make sure it doesn't source from the world's endangered forests, Levi Strauss revamped it forest products purchasing policy which began in the early 1990s.
"Levi's forest products purchasing policy sends a clear message to Asia Pulp and Paper that if they want to do business with respected global companies, they must stop destroying rainforests," says Lafcadio Cortesi for Rainforest Action Network. "It is time for APP to stop pulping Indonesia's last rainforests for cheap paper products. Instead APP should support the country's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation."
Levi's new worldwide policy covers all wood and paper products purchased by the company and mandates that at all paper contain a minimum 30 percent post-consumer recycled content. When it's available, the company will buy 100 percent post-consumer paper and when that's not possible it will buy paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that it comes from sustainably managed forests.
The policy applies to all forest products Levi's may procure, including paper, product packaging and hangtags, corrugated, construction and decoration materials, and furniture.
Most recently, Kroger, the largest US supermarket chain, ended its contract with Asia Pulp, as did the world's biggest toy maker Mattel.
Over the past several years, a growing list of major brands have dropped their contracts with Asia Pulp: US book publishers Scholastic, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster, toy makers Hasbro and Lego, fashion giants Gucci and Tiffany and Co., and office supply stores Staples and Office Depot.
The Walt Disney Company is currently developing a policy to exclude fiber connected to deforestation from its global supply chains.
Indonesia's rainforests are among the most biologically and culturally diverse in the world, and its deforestation rates are among the highest.
The country is the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter (after China and US) because of the clearcutting of its vast forests. More carbon is released into the atmosphere each year from logging Indonesia's forests than from all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the US combined.
It is also leading to the extinction of wildlife, including the orangutan and Sumatran tiger.
Asia Pulp is expanding into the US and Canada. Since it usually does business under the name of one of its subsidiary shell companies, many customers don't realize they're buying from them. Some of the shells are: Eagle Ridge Paper, Global Paper Solutions Inc., Solaris Paper and Mercury Paper.
Learn more about Levi Strauss and sustainability:
Photo by Artnow314/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Charis Michelsen
Need another reason to buy a hybrid? Here’s one – the Dekra Used Car Report (which focuses on green vehicles) announced this year that the Toyota Prius was the compact vehicle with the fewest problems.
Hybrids – Complicated AND Dependable
Hybrid vehicles are a daunting prospect for many car buyers – the general impression is that they’re really complicated, which leads to a fear of many expensive trips to the shop or the dealer to get something fixed. Dekra shows that it just isn’t true; the Prius was easily at the top of their quality section as the compact car with the fewest defects showing up between 30,000 and 60,000 miles.
Dekra’s method of rating cars is their defect index, which subtracts the percentage of vehicles with “significant deficiencies” from the percentage of vehicles with no relevant defects. In other words, the higher the number, the better. When the Toyota Prius was evaluated, 90 percent of the vehicles had no significant problems, while 2.5 percent had serious issues, giving it a defect index of 87.5 percent.
Apparently Toyota Makes Reliable Small Cars
Toyota actually did quite well across the board in Dekra’s report, with the Auris (also available as a hybrid) taking second place for quality in the compact car section, and the Yaris firmly taking top place among the small cars. Toyota, one might speculate, is not surprised by this news at all, as its on internal statistics show the Prius as having the fewest maintenance costs of any car it is currently selling.
Think about that for a moment – of all the cars Toyota has under warranty, the one that costs them the least is the Prius. Complex or not, that sounds pretty reliable to me. The competition needs to step it up a notch.
While conducting its research, Dekra evaluated 15 million general inspections of 230 models from the past two years (that’s an average of over 65,000 cars of each model type). They evaluated typical used-car defects only, which is to say if the car was screwed up from not being properly maintained, the owner had it coming and those problems didn’t count (worn-out tires not caused by engineering defects, for instance).
Ready for a Prius – or at least ready to embrace the knowledge that hybrids are as dependable as any other car? Let us know in the comments, below.Reprinted with permission from Gas 2.0
As soon as I discovered this collection of small houses, I was taken. Wow! These rustic cabins with green roofs, treehouses, and small homes are located at Urnatur, in Sweden, an eco lodge and retreat center.
Urnatur is a family-owned retreat and tree house hotel, with private cabins in the incredible Swedish forest. It’s a place where individuals can go to learn about traditional skills (foraging wild foods, traditional building), or simply go for a bit of downtime. Just by looking at their beautiful cabins in photos online, I am already relaxed and retreating…
Here are six gorgeous houses at Urnatur.
Reprinted with permission from Sustainablog
Southwest Airlines is introducing green materials in its new cabins as part of its Evolve initiative.
The $60 million retrofit will be finished in 2013. Southwest says the changes will reduce fuel consumption, increase passenger comfort, and lead to greater revenues (the design allows for more seats) without raising prices.
Seats: New seats will be more durable and will reduce fuel consumption simply by being six pounds lighter. The aircraft will weith 635 pounds less, resulting in over $10 million in ongoing annual cost savings.
Seat Covers: E-leather will cover the seats - made from recycled leather, it's a lightweight, scuff resistant alternative to traditional leather. Michigan-based Irvin Automotive makes the material, which Southwest says also cost much less.
Seat Frame: seat frames from Southwest's fleet will be re-used, saving $50 million.
Carpet: The cabin's interior carpet will be supplied by sustainability leader Interface (Nasdaq: IFSIA). Its carpet tiles eliminate the need to completely replace the carpet when smaller areas wear out. Interface manufacturers the carpet using a closed loop recycled process.
Life Vest Pouches will be a pound lighter, as well as smaller, giving passengers more room for carry-on luggage under the seat.
Wind Screen: This product in the bulkhead has a longer lifespan, reducing the labor costs and waste that result from frequent replacements or repairs.
Switching from Plastic to Aluminum: Seat arms, tray table latches and other accessories will now be aluminum, increasing recyclability and durability.
The changes come as a result of Southwest's Green Plane, which has been testing the materials since 2009.
Southwest led the airlines in Climate Counts' scoring this year, which ranks companies on how much action they're taking to address climate change. They also are ranked among the highest in the industry for recycling.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Pete Danko
California regulators have approved five power purchase agreements that could boost the state’s renewable energy capacity by 1,088 megawatts (MW) and produce 2,927 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy. The projects, two for wind and three for solar, are divided among the state’s biggest utilities – Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric – all of which are required to source 33 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. The state recently reported that in 2010 the utilities passed the 16 percent mark.
Southern California Edison led the way in this new round of approvals, getting the state Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to sign off on 20-year power purchase agreements the utility reached last January for power produced at three solar photovoltaics (PV) projects backed by San Jose-based SunPower. Those projects include a 110-MW plant in Las Banos that is scheduled to be in operation by the end of 2014, and dual 325-MW and 276-MW plants set for Rosamond that are expected to be generating power in October 2016.
While the commission didn’t release the pricing details, CPUC President Michael R. Peevey said he was “ glad to see that these contracts represent more than 700 megawatts that are below the market price referent.” The market price referent is a tool the state uses to compare the long-term cost of new energy sources to the long-term cost of getting power from a new 500-MW natural gas-fired combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT).
The other solar contract approved was San Diego Gas & Electric’s amended 20-year deal with a Pattern Energy-owned project in Imperial County that is expected to provide 299 MW of capacity. This project is further along, with energy deliveries expected to begin in December.
Lastly, Pacific Gas and Electric won backing for 25-year agreements with NextEra’s Montezuma 1 and 2 wind projects in the Montezuma Hills of Solano County. The PUC said the plants will provide 78.2 MW of new capacity and generate 201 GWh of energy annually, begining in November.
While California’s utilities, which were delivering about 16 percent of their power from renewables in 2010, have until 2020 to hit the state’s 33 percent renewable portfolio standard target, they can’t dawdle in adding capacity. That’s because the law requires them to be at 20 percent by the end of 2013 and 25 percent by the end of 2016.
Plus, not all the power purchase agreements result in power actually making it to the grid. According to that report on the state’s renewable progress, “About 30 percent of long?term RPS contracts (10 years or more) approved by the California Public Utilities Commission have been cancelled,” and “the contract failure rate increases to about 40 percent if contracts that are delayed are considered.” Based on that, the report advised utilities to contract for renewable capacity considerably beyond the amount needed to meet the RPS.Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
by Pete Danko
Look at a map of Southern California, and you’ll see several large gray patches. These depict sprawling bases, testing ranges, weapons stations, airfields – you name it – that the various branches of the U.S. military oversee. And according to a new U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) study, these swaths of desert land could be gold mines for solar power.
The department’s Office of Installations and Environment concluded that 96 percent of the surface area of nine desert military installations it studied (including two in Nevada) would have to be off limits to solar projects for military or environmental reasons. But that still left 25,000 acres judged “suitable” for development, and all told the study said 7,000 megawatts of solar energy capacity was technically and economically feasible.
Of course, just because the DOD thinks the land is suitable for solar development doesn’t mean everyone else will – and in its report the military acknowledged that there would be questions about who would oversee private-investor led solar development on what are known as “withdrawn lands.” These are lands that are part of the public domain supervised by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), but that have been withdrawn from the operation of public land laws to serve military mission needs. If they weren’t being used for military purposes, would it still up to the DOD to decide their fate? Or would the BLM step in? And what role might the state of California play? How these questions are answered could determine what environmental-review processes and regulations come into play, and the pace and success of development.
The military said its 7,000 MW figure was based on the assumption that development would happen on all 25,000 of the acres rated “suitable” as well as one-quarter of the 100,000 acres rated “likely” or “questionably” suitable for solar, adding up to 50,000 acres. And by “economically feasible,” the report’s authors meant that projects would be enticing to private developers taking advantage of federal and state tax-based incentives. “Projects funded by the government (e.g., using military construction funds) were not viable,” the report said, “given the current costs of the technology and the tax-based nature of federal solar incentives.”
Still, the study said, the government could get a lot out of such development, including rental fees and cheaper power that could be worth $100 million annually. In fact, the DOD suggested the government could do better than it is under the BLM’s current leasing program, writing, “BLM’s solar land lease rates could increase substantially and still provide an attractive rate of return for private developers under the study’s assumptions.”
The study looked at the full range of solar development possibilities on the bases and determined that crystalline-silicon PV with single-axis tracking had the best potential “due to its combination of low cost of installation and high electricity output.” Other PV technologies – including thin-film – could also be viable, the study said, but concentrating solar power technologies that were studied “were not economically viable in most cases due to their higher installed costs.”
While the researchers began by looking at nine bases in the Mojave and Colorado deserts, they eventually narrowed their focus to four bases in California with significant acreage prime for development: Edwards Air Force Base (24,327 acres), Fort Irwin (18,728 acres), China Lake (6,777) and Twentynine Palms (553 acres).
The study emphasized that the development could occur “without impact on mission performance and can result in substantial value delivery” to the Defense Department. It added, however, that “a thoughtful program, with the necessary funding, leadership support and capacity building” would be necessary to actually make it happen.EarthTechling
by Beth Buczynski
I live in an old house that’s been split into three apartments. Our landlord is kind enough to provide a separate trash can for each tenant, we share a recycling bin. This gives me the chance to (unintentionally) snoop on their recyclables whenever I empty our bin.
One neighbor’s recycling, not sure which, consists almost entirely of wine bottles. Everything time see them sitting there (in plastic bags!) in the bottom of the bin, I have two thoughts:
1) Thank goodness they’re recycling.
2) There are so many other things they could do with these wine bottles besides recycling them.
Of course not everyone has time to spend crafting neat things out of old wine bottles (but if you do, this is the post to read), which is why I was so pleased to see a new company dedicated to reusing them in a creative way.
Rewined Candles, beside having a clever name, is a Charleston-based company that makes scented soy-wax candles in hand-cut recycled wine bottles. Even more interesting is that these aren’t your usual Vanilla and Lavender-scented candles: Rewined Candles are instead carefully blended to mimic the flavors and scents of your favorite vino varietal!
With such an interesting concept, it only makes sense that Rewined would be creative in choosing their packaging as well. But they don’t want any extra credit for choosing to go upcycled.
“Everyone is making things from recycled objects these days,” said Adam Fetsch, Candle Maker. “Our goal is to make beautifully designed candles with remarkable fragrances that happen to be poured into repurposed wine bottles. Cheers!”Reprinted with permission from Insteading
by Mackinnon Lawrence
A series of recent policy-related developments within the biofuels industry may have set the stage for what could prove to be a significant shift in biofuel geopolitics over the next decade.
To recap: the European Court of Justice (ECJ) affirmed an earlier ruling that held the imposition of carbon taxes on flights touching down or taking off on EU soil did not infringe international law or the Open Skies Agreement; a U.S. District Court ruled that California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) violates the U.S. Constitution; and the long-standing U.S. ethanol producer credit (aka “VEETC”) slipped quietly into the history books.
Where do these developments leave the industry?
While the inclusion of airline emissions in the EU’s ETS indicates that the buzz around aviation biofuels won’t fade anytime soon, the threat of costly trade wars by the United States and China in response to the ruling could put a crimp on the expansion of international biofuel trade flows.
Meanwhile, just as the expiration of VEETC eliminates an estimated $6 billion worth of annual subsidies to the ethanol industry, the lucrative California fuel market is (at least for now) once again open for Midwest ethanol producers, and likely at the expense of Brazilian ethanol (more on this below).
On the whole, the decisions are generally good for advanced biofuels and corn-based ethanol alike.
Aviation Biofuels Lack Production Volumes, Not Willing Buyers
In the case of advanced biofuels, the decision to uphold the carbon fee suggests that international carriers will not escape the added costs associated with doing business in Europe, adding further incentive to integrate carbon-cutting technologies. As I discussed in an earlier blog, the combination of impending offset purchases and high oil prices appears to be forcing the aviation industry’s hand when it comes to fossil fuel alternatives, which has been signaling strong demand for sustainable advanced biofuels in recent years (note that first-generation biofuels lack the performance characteristics necessary to power commercial and military aircraft).
Although expected, the ruling is generally good news for energy feedstock producers looking to commercialize next generation feedstocks like camelina, jatropha, switchgrass, and algae, and seeking reliable markets and off-take contracts to offset the risk associated with growing relatively unknown crops.
But the advanced biofuels story is not about lack of demand, which suggests that the ECJ decision may actually not have much impact at all. In the case of the aviation industry, rising oil prices mean that demand for biofuel alternatives is deep, durable, and widespread. Even without the EU tax, assuming adequate supply, price parity with petroleum-based fuels, and sufficient distribution logistics, aviation fuel buyers would be clamoring to lock-up every last drop of advanced biofuels production.
Meanwhile, with the threat of trade wars from the United States and China among others, costly tariffs and other punitive measures could actually stifle biofuels development, an unintended consequence of the aviation tax.
Corn-based Ethanol Gets a Boost
Over on the other side of the pond, Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill’s December 29 decision declaring California’s carbon fuel standard unconstitutional represents a significant victory for Midwest corn ethanol producers (see my 2010 article on the LCFS and Green Federalism for more on the legal issues). The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) policy, introduced in 2007, aims for a reduction in the “life-cycle carbon intensity” of fuels consumed in the state by 10 percent over the next decade. Due to corn ethanol’s inherent inefficiencies, the policy excludes most of the corn-ethanol produced in the United States from one of the world’s largest fuel markets.
Implementation of the policy had led to the peculiar situation where Midwest ethanol producers were shipping their offending product 6,000 miles to Brazil to make up for a shortfall in sugarcane ethanol production. Midwest corn’s exclusion from California, coupled with a national blending wall policy, put a serious constraint on U.S. producers’ scale-up ambitions. The ruling may put corn ethanol back in the domestic driver’s seat, at least for now.
Looking Beyond 2012
As discussed in Pike Research’s report, Biofuels Markets and Technologies, we expect the production of conventional biofuels – namely corn- and sugarcane-based ethanol – to increase steadily over the next decade as demand for alternatives to petroleum-based fuel outstrips advanced biofuels production volumes. The corn-based ethanol industry appears to have established viability, and even without the VEETC, we foresee an increase in production as access to markets like California and the likely raising of U.S. blend walls (e.g. implementation of E15 or expansion of E85) opens up new opportunities for producers.
The key question raised by these decisions: where will the production go over the next decade? As corn-based ethanol ventures beyond VEETC, the industry will need to fight for market access at home and abroad despite this most recent victory. Meanwhile, the EU may be positioning itself as the primary market for advanced biofuels at the expense of U.S. and China.Mackinnon Lawrence is an analyst at Pike Research with a focus on advanced biofuels and bioenergy.
A panel formed to study solutions to increased flooding in Singapore has urged the government to require green roofs on new and retrofitted buildings. The 12-member panel, which was created after torrential rains caused flash flooding across eastern and central Singapore last year, said improved weather modeling and infrastructure improvements are needed to handle a surge in stormwater runoff caused by urbanization in Singapore. In the meantime, however, the panel urged simpler steps to reduce and delay flooding, including better storage tanks, porous pavements, and rain gardens. Such rooftop gardens, which are often added to reduce heat or for aesthetic reasons, can also absorb six to 34 liters of water per square meter and limit the spread of water flow, local contractors said. After flash floods doused large sections of Singapore last June for the second consecutive year, a government official warned that the country’s existing drainage system is not equipped to handle the region’s “changing” weather patterns.
Photo by Pete Hill/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
In 2011, solar busted out all over the world, soaring 54 percent to 28 gigawatts (GW), driven by record installations in Germany and Italy, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
"The year was on the high side of even bullish estimates," says Jenny Chase of Bloomberg New Energy. "We think 2012 will be about flat, as European markets have overshot targets and spending caps and plan to rein back severely."
The astounding growth came from crashing solar prices and a rush among developers to get as much solar installed before subsidy cuts in EU's biggest markets, Germany, Italy and the UK. Governments couldn't afford the above-market rates they offer under their feed-in (FiT) laws for such a huge number of installations.
Yesterday, we reported that investment in solar jumped 36 percent to $136.6 billion in 2011, outpacing the $74.9 billion put into wind power, and representing almost half of all renewable energy investment worldwide last year.
Germany installed a record at 7.5 GW in 2011. Compare that to the US, who also hit a record 1.7 GW, a rise of 88 percent.
Solar also led venture capital deals in terms of the amount invested.
In the UK, 762 MW of solar was added last year, a 10-fold increase from 76.8 MW in 2010. 95 percent of the projects were residential PV.
After the country rushed to reduce its feed-in tariffs (FiT) as the boom outpaced forecasts and budgets, cutting it by as much as 71 percent for commercial projects, developers turned to residential PV. The government then cut those rates as well and industry groups sued last month to slow those cuts.
UK's government budgeted for 284 MW by mid-2013 and 832 MW by mid-2015.
Now, the uncertainly over the FiT has the industry at a standstill. A mind-numbing 230,000 solar plants have registered for the FiT since the program started, reports Bloomberg.
But Solar Stocks Could Rebound
Meanwhile, all the activity in solar reduced manufacturers' bloated inventory levels, which led to those lower prices and their subsequent crash on the stock markets last year.
China's plan to consolidate the number of solar companies while doubling solar installations in the country, is also good news for the solar industry.
Some analysts have raised their ratings on solar companies, including First Solar (FSLR), Trina Solar (TSL), Yingli Green Enegy (YGE), Suntech (STP), and Power-One (PWER).
After a killer year, the worst could be over for solar stocks. After falling 59 percent in 2011, Bloomberg's Global Leaders Solar Index is up 16 percent this year.
Many solar stocks have been trading well below book value and are certainly primed to move up for that reason alone.
Photo by OregonDOT/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Eric Bloom
In late 2011 President Obama announced the Better Buildings Challenge, a $4 billion program sponsored by the DOE with the support of a number of public and private sector partners. The program aims to make American buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 by directing federal agencies to engage in performance contracts (driving efficiency with zero taxpayer funds) as well as mobilizing major companies to invest in efficiency upgrades to their own buildings and plants.
The list of partners in the Better Buildings Challenge is impressive, including major building service providers such as Schneider Electric and Transwestern, as well as industrials with large building portfolios such as Saint-Gobain and General Electric. To date, 1.6 billion square feet of space have been committed to the program, and that figure will grow as more companies, government agencies, and other organizations get involved.
But is it enough to reach the 20 percent goal by 2020? Four billion dollars may sound like a lot, but some studies have indicated that reducing energy consumption in U.S. buildings will take much more than that. A 2009 study from McKinsey found that a potential $1.2 trillion in gross energy savings sit latent in the U.S building stock – but it would take $520 billion in upfront investment to unlock those savings and reduce projected energy demand by 23 percent. The amount of capital directly engaged for the Better Buildings Challenge is less than 1 percent of the $520 billion McKinsey believes is needed. So the 20 percent reduction by 2020 may be a stretch with these funds alone.
However, the announcement could have a ripple effect on the energy service company (ESCO) market and in energy efficiency investment more broadly. In the federal sector alone, President Obama has ordered federal agencies to invest $2 billion in energy efficiency. That money will likely be spread out over the next few years and will go to energy performance contracts with the 53 ESCOs qualified to do federal work. That, in turn, will put ESCOs in a better cash position to build new capacity and reach more customers.
Other emerging trends in building efficiency policy might help the U.S. chip away at the funding gap. Regulations such as PACE financing are starting to lower the bar for commercial building owners to engage in efficiency upgrades in cities from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. And commercial benchmarking laws in cities like New York and San Francisco will soon make energy efficiency even more of a differentiator in commercial real estate markets.
The Better Buildings Challenge follows shortly after the announcement of a major zero energy building initiative by the General Services Administration, the federal government’s real estate manager. GSA will launch zero energy retrofits of 30 federal buildings around the United States over the next few years. The federal government has long adopted a “lead by example” approach to efficiency in commercial buildings, and these two major federal energy efficiency initiatives will help accelerate investment in efficiency not only in the public sector, but also in the private sector.Eric Bloom is a green building and renewable energy analyst for Pike Research.