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 start with the latest fiscal forecast by NZ Treasury, which for the first time discusses valuing ‘Natural Capital’ in financial forecasting and reporting. It identifies using New Zealand’s natural resources sustainably as important for ensuring and maintaining growth of our living standards. Management of NZ’s natural capital is improving, but many areas need more work, and clarification of who is responsible for this. Central Government must now determine how it can support the transition to a world of 'growth within limits'. The forecast notes that short term expenditure to restore natural resources should be seen as an investment as there will be long term benefits.
Valuing and restoring natural capital and creating a regenerative food system is the theme of a publication by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation “A New Dynamic 2: Effective Systems in a Circular Economy”. It is time to move from a linear “take, make, dispose” system where land is overused and damaged, to a circular system that restores natural capital and uses nutrient and material loops to provide healthier food supply. An interesting read which ties in nicely with our next article – 3 circular principles for healthy agriculture.
This article identifies that soil is one of the key natural capitals we depend upon, and that its loss is our demise. Returning farming system to being in harmony with nature’s cycles, using biochar, and implementing holistic management of grasslands are the principles referred to and discussed in greater detail. Sequestering carbon into soil and planting polycultures rather than single crops is essential to returning to healthy soils.
Next we look at how Biochar could have a very positive effect for those areas of the Amazon that have had rainforest removed and replaced by monocrops like soy. The production of a ton of soy beans generates a ton of waste “soy hay” that is then burnt or dug into the ground to decompose, both generating carbon emissions. Biochar is a super charcoal made by pyrolysing or charring biomass at high heat without oxygen, and it is carbon negative – virtually no carbon emissions during production and it sequesters carbon into the soil for thousands of years, when dug in. Biochar helps circular systems as it reduces the requirement for the use of fertilisers to maintain the quality of the soil.
Another natural resource that needs help globally is fresh water. In Egypt the production of rice uses about half of all that country’s water resources. Finding a way of reducing this is important globally, as other countries have similar issues. A new Egyptians invention is a machine that reduces the water required for rice farming by about half, at the same time increasing the yield slightly. A win/win. The price may be a bit high now, but will likely decrease with increased demand.
From agriculture and natural capital, we move to economic capital. As our next two articles explore, there are many different ways to define ethical investing. All involve Australian financial institutions and have very different approaches to investing in fossil fuel development. For example Australian Ethical has a strict 23-point Ethical Charter that forbids it from investing in things like logging, oil, weapons, tobacco and coal. With 30,000 customers and $1.6 billion in managed funds it is still small in banking terms. But it is growing and fast.
 And then we have the large mainstream Australian banks of ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australian Bank and Westpac, who are all heavily investing in fossil fuel developments. This is despite all four banks publicly supporting a 2C global warming limit laid out in the Paris Agreement.
 The phrase ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ springs to mind…
Another form of capital is human capital, better known as employee well-being. As our next article discusses, there is a strong corporate case for a healthy workforce. As the new Integrated Reporting and GRI set out when discussing materiality, investing in the well-being of employees pays dividends in many ways like higher productivity, lower churn rates and a happier work place in general.
And in terms of the corporate world it is Chinese publicly quoted companies making serious in-roads into green energy with the Clean 200 index being dominated by them. Of the top 200, 71 or 35.5% are Chinese. Any suggestions that China isn’t taking serious steps to address climate change through investments in renewable generation can now well and truly be put to bed.
The problem of plastic pollution in our oceans is incredibly bad. Each year over 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism. This waste creates over $8 billion in damages every year. Thankfully, the UN has taken notice and has launched a global five year campaign to eliminate the major sources of plastics in out oceans. With A-list celebrities and large countries making pledges to reduce their micro plastic waste, this could be a very successful endeavour, we certainly hope it succeeds.
Federal data in the United States estimates that around 15% of commercially used water is used by hotels and hospitality based organisations, with laundry use being among the top 3 consumers after private and public bathrooms and alongside landscape irrigation.
Realising this, Xeros, a British-born technology firm, saw an opportunity to do something about this. Their new polymer beads extract dirt from linens and uniforms, using far less water than conventional washing methods. The best part of these beads? They can be recharged and reused, reducing waste. A success story involving the beads resulted in a million gallon reduction in water use at the Stanford Park Hotel. A reduction that is not to be laughed at!
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.