Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
This week we open with a series of articles on transformation. The world is a changing. For example, chew on this: in an effort
to improve the health of humans and the planet, investors that manage over $1.25 trillion are urging food companies to focus and invest in alternatives to meat-based proteins. Animal-based supply chains are under threat from climate change, consumers are increasingly aware of the health impacts of meat, and the financial community is taking notice. The consortium’s agenda to influence the market is a great example of how sustainability is being viewed as a financial opportunity, and that a small group of investors can lever their influence to make big change.
There is tremendous opportunity in yielding more by doing less, and this not only applies in the field of finance, but also in the fields which grow our food. Pioneering agricultural research by one of New Zealand’s own, Dr. John Baker, has shown that tilling and digging soil results in releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere. But not only that, it decreases the fertility and biological profile of the soil. But there is hope: ‘low disturbance no-tillage’ agriculture is a method which can not only cost a farmer less than traditional tillage, but can increase yields. Could the dig less, grow more philosophy take hold and address a looming food crisis?
If tilling soil has negative consequences, and farmers won’t change their methods, why not just move food production away from the field? Beyond the benefits of avoided soil disturbance and CO2 release, vertical farms offer the promise of increased food production using less water and fossil fuels. And NZ should take notice. Software analytics, controlled process environments, and nutrient recycling are all benefits that could threaten the existing open-air agricultural model, and their beneficiaries. Best bet? The traditional agricultural industry has to stay abreast of this rapidly changing sector, lest these new companies ‘weed’ them out of profitable food crop niches.
Vertical farming however can’t replace one NZ primary industry which is poised to do well. Wood is a climate friendly option when it comes to building materials; especially if the wood is sourced domestically from a sustainably managed forest. With new home-builds in NZ poised to boom over the next 10 years, engineered wood products promise a carbon-neutral (or negative) option for building materials. If climate change is a concern to homebuilders and buyers, wood should be a top choice. But will NZ develop the requisite industry, technology, and efficiency gains in order to fully take advantage of its natural resources? All of these transformative opportunities need to be acknowledged and prepared for. Putting the head in the proverbial sand isn’t an option.
Z Energy is breaking more ground this week, announcing they are installing composting collection stations for their disposable coffee cups. Selling 90,000 coffees a week, Z Energy are looking to make a dent in the estimated 180 million disposable cups used every year in NZ. Although only a small step, it’s one in the right direction and one that others in the industry and cafes will follow.
Following this trend, but going further still, Sweden is trying to tackle the ‘throwaway/disposable culture’ altogether. By offering tax breaks on repairs of products, it aims to reduce the amount of consumer purchases to replace broken goods, and instead try and change the culture of the population towards a ‘repair, reuse culture’. This change in mentality should have a large impact on organisations supplying Sweden with goods, forcing them to offer a wider range of spare parts than to simply replace the whole item.
With Sweden making moves to shift consumer culture, many organisations are trying to achieve the same result, but in a different way. It is estimated that the worlds ‘sharing economy’ will expand by 12 times to reach $300 Billion in only nine years. Organisations such as Airbnb, Blablacar and Lyft offer peer-to-peer platforms that link consumers and sellers for areas such as accommodation, ridesharing, content streaming and online outsourcing. By offering this cloud-based technology, these companies are able to maximise their customer’s satisfaction and quickly build up their supply of inventory. A win all round.
We next look at the next phase in green buildings, healthier buildings! As green buildings increasingly become the norm, some developers and owners are taking the next step by providing healthier buildings that improve the wellness of its occupants. Features such as better natural light, organic paint and glues (not harmful chemicals) and the added bonus of reduced emissions. All buildings should have a healthy working/living environment, not just ‘Green’ buildings!
While work is taking place with buildings, little is happening on the world’s roads. Traffics is at a standstill, regardless of how much is spent on road infrastructure. Furthermore, car occupants are being forced to breathe in poisonous exhaust emissions. Transformation needs to occur here also with smarter transport solutions such as electric vehicles, shared vehicles or more efficient and flexible public transport.
Staying with transport, India has announced it wants to become a 100% electric vehicle nation by 2030. Certainly a lofty goal, but with the majority of India’s electricity generation coming from coal, it kind of seems a bit pointless.
 Now if they were to take the same path as the Dutch parliament, who have just voted to close down the countries remaining coal fired power stations and industry, it really would be a fantastic goal.
Perhaps the US government should take note also and step up their protection of the environment. For example stopping this latest move to excavate a new coal mine in Alaska. This so called ‘environmental friendly’ open cast mine will cover 77 square km and be 92 metre’s deep. With demand rapidly slumping in the US and China, this just seems a crazy idea and should not proceed.
Rather than using coal, the option of using hydroelectric dams has always been considered to be a far greener way of generating electricity. However, the energy generated in these dams may not be quite as ‘green‘ as first thought. A recent study has revealed that the microbes feeding on the organic matter trapped in piles of sediment, release far more methane than previously realised. This needs to be considered by those already using, and others wanting to build more dams.