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.

In our first couple of articles we examine how people are becoming concerned about the growth in GM based foods with ‘Millions march against GM crops’ (well mainly against Monsanto). Protesters are seeking more informative food packaging, so better purchasing decisions can be made. Monsanto, as the world’s leading GM seed producer doesn’t seem too keen on this idea, with sales of non-GM labelled food, growing at between 15% and 30%, it’s not hard to see why.

Not only is there a growing awareness about GM, sometimes it can appear where it shouldn’t be growing – like in a wheatfield in Oregon. The GM crop even though it wasn’t intentionally planted, was subsequently found to be an older and unapproved Monsanto strain. Monsanto sure makes some bad ass strains of GM – nice going Monsanto!

We also examine the benefits of life cycle assessments and reducing emission outputs. When a company performs a lifecycle assessment, areas that emit the highest amount of carbon are identified; thus allowing a company to focus and improve or manage these better. This provides better transparency in the sustainability of their product, which may in turn influence customer decisions, but also reveals the steps that are in between (suppliers, government controls etc) to the final product and purchase.

For an example of how a lifecycle assessment could be beneficial, we look at the manufacture of shoes. Often manufacturing can account for two-thirds of greenhouse emissions. On average a pair of Asics shoes generates 13.6 kgs of carbon emissions. With around 360 different stages involved in the manufacture and assembly of a pair of shoes, companies are looking at ways the number of stages might be reduced – but first of all, these stages need to be understood and where the lifecycle assessment comes in.

After the lifecycle assessment is completed, the next step is to reduce emissions. Often intricate processes are put in place to reduce carbon emissions by taking away human contact, but sometimes human interaction can be beneficial. For example, a simple system of placing small inconspicuous coloured dots on energy consuming equipment reminds people when they can be turned off, or just to turn off lights when not required (red dots for lights). Members of Staff therefore can become stakeholders in their company’s own sustainability programme through simple and effective processes.

Life cycle assessments can also apply to nature. For example, we examine how the Sumatran rainforest is rapidly disappearing due to industrial landscaping. Companies who have undertaken lifecycle assessment, such as Adidas, Hasbro and Nestle are now insisting suppliers who previously used products from the Sumatran rainforest to source their products from elsewhere.

Our next articles focusses on sustainability reporting. Our first story discusses three key guideposts that should be considered when creating a sustainability report. Before a company embarks on sustainability reporting, they should first consider materiality. This is a process by which a company determines which topics are to be addressed in a corporate social responsibility, or sustainability report.

But then why should a company even consider sustainability reporting in the first place? Well, according to a recently released report out of North America, the majority of companies that have them implemented, say that it leads to higher cash flows and assists enhance the firm’s reputation. Transparency, competitive advantage, risk management and stakeholder pressure were all seen as motivation for reporting, whilst availability of data, accuracy or completeness of data and internal buy-in were seen as challenges.

As one of the fastest changing renewable generation technologies, we examine how the photovoltaic industry, with economics of scale, subsidies and advances in technology all contributing to the global photovoltaic industry, is predicted to nearly double in market size, to $155 billion in 2018. US, China, Japan and India are all expected to join the likes of Germany in growing their installed PV generation capacity.

Our next article considers the warning from the United Nations that businesses must manage the risk of economic losses due to natural disasters. The UN third edition of its Global Assessment Report, reports that small and medium enterprises are particularly at risk. In a 2013 survey, of the 1,300 small and medium businesses involved, only 14.2% of companies with less than 100 employees had any form of business continuity plan. The report reviewed the national database of 40 countries arguing that stronger disaster risk management reduced uncertainty and strengthened confidence. As an example of significant natural disaster loss, Toyota lost $1.2 billion in 2011 due to the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

As another example of a natural disaster, albeit slower moving, we look at changes to the world’s climate and in this instance – glacial retreat. Since 2004, glacial retreat has accelerated and now in some places receding 3-4m per year, exposing land not seen since AD1550 to AD 1850. This has led to researchers uncovering plants that have been frozen a century ago. Furthermore, these 400 year-old plants are sprouting, with many of these species being new to science. One can only speculate what will be uncovered in the future… an iPlant?

We finish this Snippets looking at a couple of innovative buildings. First up is an algae powered building using panels filled with algae to provide fuel as well as shade the building. If the idea of being in a literally ‘green’ building doesn’t appeal, how about a hairy one? A Swedish firm has designed a building covered in ‘hair’ to collect wind energy. All examples of where engineering boundaries are constantly being pushed and what we through was impossible or science fiction, being successfully engineered today.

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