Welcome to our Snippets newsletter which as always endeavours to provide coverage of developments in energy and environmental issues, from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you continue to find our fortnightly collection of articles to be of interest in what is a rapidly evolving area.

Last week earmarked Bill English’s eighth Budget. So when it comes to protecting the environment, was the budget a masterclass of spin or prudent stewardship? Our opening article examines two very different views when it comes to the Budget’s focus on climate change, irrigation, water quality and environment in general. We tend to support the views voiced by the Environmental Groups in that this government talks big on environmental issues, but in fact delivers little, otherwise why would the Budget have cut funding for the Department of Conservation by 10% to $344M from $378M? Spin.[1]

Another country currently using spin is Australia. In their case, getting the United Nations to remove all references to Australia in a recent Unesco report. This is despite the well-publicised bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, destruction of ancient Tasmanian forests and the sacking of hundreds of climate change scientists. The reason cited for Australia requesting all references to be removed, is "that it might damage tourism". [2]

One form of tourism that only continues to boom, is the cruise industry. The newest, and now largest, cruiser to join the cruising fleet, Harmony of the Seas, set sail from Southampton last week. As the article discusses, not everything is harmonious, as the residents of these port cities are having to cope with ever-increasing levels of pollution, whether it being from the liners themselves or from the vehicle movements associated with tending the needs of the passengers. Obviously the need to manage emissions from international travel, whether it is by air or sea, is increasingly urgent. [3]

With an ever-increasing demand by consumers for transparency, the calls for holding shipping companies and airlines to account are only going to grow. This is largely being driven by Millennials, who recently surpassed the boomer generation in sheer population count, favouring ethically sourced goods and services, and speaking with both their voices and money. There is also a growing demand for products from companies that are addressing social and environmental issues. In fact, consumers in three of the world’s biggest markets – the U.S., the UK and China – rate “honesty and transparency” alongside price and quality when considering whether to buy a product or brand. Governments and Investors in turn are responding with increasing demands for reporting and compliance. The owners of Harmony of the Seas, and similar businesses, need to take note. [4]

Many businesses now realise the need to introduce increased sustainability measures into their own business, and are keen to show other businesses how they do this, as many governments are not leading the way in this area. The circular economy which we have looked at in detail earlier (see Snippets 23 October 2014) has a big part to play in improving businesses sustainability.

Consumers and investors in businesses, want truth, not spin, and are asking for more transparency around businesses, so they can see how the businesses they purchase from or invest in are looking towards a sustainable future. The transparency expected nowadays presents the business case for closing the loop – recycling wherever possible and reducing waste to the minimum possible, and sometimes providing their product “as a service” to minimise waste. Many businesses have realised the benefits of this approach, and examples are detailed in our next three articles. Dell, Phillips and DSM have all taken the initiative to become more sustainable. [5] GM, too, are reusing, recycling wherever possible, and have created a blueprint for other businesses to follow should they want to improve their sustainability. [6] A growing number of companies, even half of the biggest 'US Fortune 500' ones, are realising it is a "win-win" situation to develop environmentally preferable products, and that more and more consumers are requiring it. [7]

In this new, more sustainable, business environment, how long can the "business as usual" approach last at ExxonMobil? Especially when more than 38% of Exxon’s investors recently rebelled against the company, by voting for a proposal that would require the company to publish an annual study of how its profits may be affected by public climate change policies. The investors are requiring transparency, much to the annoyance of the CEO and executives. With many billions in the bank, surely ExxonMobil could increase their investment in alternatives to fossil fuels, and transition to other revenue streams that are better for the environment. [8]

An area with potential to be a viable alternative renewable fuel that ExxonMobil, and others, could consider , or  reconsider, is Algae biofuel. The production of this biofuel creates opportunities to use the many by-products in its own “circular economy” – producing food products, omega-3 fatty acids, Chlorella and Spirulina, bioplastic, and biogas that can be used to provide the heat required to grow the algae, closing the loop. [9]

Renewable energy is becoming ever more viable. The whole of Portugal recently ran their electricity for 4 days straight on renewable energy, using only solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour period in early May. In 2015, wind power alone met 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 20% in Spain, 13% in Germany and 11% in the UK. It’s great to see gains such as these, renewal energy making a very real difference. [10]

Concrete is a vital component in many of these renewable energy projects, but concrete itself has a very high carbon foot print. A range of new products and techniques are being looked at to lessen the environmental impacts of this building material. One such process in development is injecting waste CO2 into concrete, effectively replacing a small amount of cement, but not compromising strength. Other techniques under development involve replacing limestone with waste CO2 and magnesium to create a concrete like product, and recycling old concrete into aggregate to be used again. [11]

We finish this week with a look at biodegradable plastics. These plastics are supposed to help minimise the huge amount of plastic that enters oceans, but these plastics will only break down at temperatures of 50C, which is not often found in the ocean! And plastic bags generally sink so won’t be broken down by the UV rays near the ocean surface. So, we have a plastic that will break down in perfect conditions, but more realistically we need to stop plastic ending up in the sea in the first place, through better recycling or finding a truly biodegradable alternative. [12]

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.


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