This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


The dirty sky: Governments need to take action to cut aircraft emissions

The dirty sky
Jun 8th 2006
From The Economist print edition


Governments need to take action to cut aircraft emissions

ALL big ideas start life on the fringes of debate. Very often it takes a shocking event to move them into the mainstream. Until last year interest in climate change was espoused mainly by scientists and green lobbyists—and the few politicians they had badgered into paying attention. But since Hurricane Katrina, something seems to have changed, particularly in America. Nobody knows whether the hurricane really had anything to do with the earth warming. But for the first time less verdant voters and big business had a clearer idea about the “extreme weather events” whose increasing frequency scientists had been talking about.

There are plenty of anecdotal signs of change: Britain's pro-business Tories have turned green; Al Gore is back in fashion in America; hybrid cars no longer get stared at. Companies are beginning to take action (see article) and encouraging governments to do the same. Europe already has an emissions-trading system (ETS) for its five dirtiest industries. In America, although the Bush administration still resists federal legislation, more and more states do not. Even China has brought in a myriad of measures, including fuel-economy rules 20% tighter than America's.

So far the political rows about global warming have centred on two polluters, smoggy factories and dirty cars. Now a new front is being opened up—in the skies. Next month the European Parliament will vote on whether to extend its emissions-trading system to airlines. If it decides in favour, the whole industry will feel the impact, for it will affect not just European airlines but all those that fly into and out of the EU. Talk about this prospect soured the International Air Transport Association's annual meeting this week in Paris, where the lords of the skies would have otherwise congratulated themselves for surviving a wretched few years of terrorism threats, disease scares and rising fuel prices. But whatever happens in the EU, the airlines look set to face vociferous demands that they should pay for their emissions (see article).

A few clouds in the sky

In some ways, the airlines are an odd target for greens. They produce only around 3% of the world's man-made carbon emissions. Surface transport, by contrast, produces 22%. Europe's merchant ships spew out around a third more carbon than aircraft do, and nobody is going after them. And unlike cars—potent symbols of individualism (and, some would say, individual selfishness)—airlines are public transport, jamming in as many people as they can into each plane. By shipping hordes of ordinary people around the globe for not very much money, they have improved the lives of millions.

What's more, many air travellers cannot easily switch. Car drivers can hop on the train or the bus, but transatlantic travellers can't row from London to New York. Nor can aircraft fuel be swapped for a green alternative. Car drivers can buy electro-petrol hybrids but aircraft are, for now, stuck with kerosene, because its energy-density makes it the only practical fuel to carry around in the air.

Yet in other ways, airlines are a fine target. They pay no tax on fuel for international flights, and therefore escape the “polluter pays” principle even more niftily than other forms of transport. Their emissions are especially damaging, too—partly because the nitrogen oxides from jet-engine exhausts help create ozone, a potent greenhouse gas, and partly because the pretty trails that aircraft leave behind them help make the clouds that can intensify the greenhouse effect. And the industry's energy consumption has been growing faster than that of other polluting industries. Air transport will soon be central, not marginal, to the emissions issue.

Education, not regulation

What, if anything, should be done? As usual, there are dangers on both sides. Excessive regulation would unnecessarily restrict individual choice and throttle an industry that makes both rich and poor countries better off. On the other hand, airlines no less than any other industry must pay for pollution.

As the debate grows, some flyers may reconsider their ways. Put frankly, air travel makes a mockery of many people's attempts to live a green life. Somebody who wants to reduce his “carbon footprint” can bicycle to work, never buy aerosols and turn off his air-conditioner—and still blow away all this virtue on a couple of long flights. And, although other forms of transport cannot easily replace flying, demand for many flights is sensitive to price. A quarter of flying is business-related; many of those journeys are essential, but others achieve only marginally more than a telephone call or videoconference. As for stag-nights in Prague and student spring breaks in Jamaica—well, the gangs of drunken revellers probably wouldn't notice if they were in Blackpool or Daytona Beach instead, as indeed many were a decade ago.

However, addressing individuals' consciences won't go that far. Air pollution is a collective problem, which in this case requires government action—or, to be more accurate, a change in policy. As it stands, the market is skewed in favour of air travel; the aim should be to make it more balanced. Two approaches are on offer. Some think the best way to limit emissions is to tax them; others argue for a system that sets a cap on pollution, and lets polluters trade the right to emit.

This newspaper has long argued for a global carbon tax as a reasonable way to tax all forms of pollution. But there is no sign of governments embracing that idea. One of the strongest arguments for aircraft emissions being dealt with by a trading system is practical: a system already exists. Europe's ETS has many obvious flaws (see article). Given that it is the world's first serious attempt to cut emissions internationally, that is not surprising. The world can learn from its imperfections, and design a better scheme for airlines.

Slowly, businessmen and politicians are coming to agree with scientists. If this generation does not tackle climate change, its descendants will not think much of it. That means raising costs for all sources of pollution. Even those deceptively cheap weekend breaks cannot be exempt.

Note created Jun 8, 2006 -

An inconvenient truth? Eco-friendly energy is expensive and impractical

Thanks to Laurie for sending this one... I can vouch for (some of) the truth of this article. A solar panel system to cover 1/2 my monthly electricity needs would cost US$70,000; wind generators are not allowed in my (urban) municipality (too ugly, perhaps); we're on a bedrock, so geothermal is impossible, or at the very least, impractical. But as Laurie pointed out, through our efforts, perhaps we can change the equation and make the technology pay off in a shorter amount of time...

And by the way, there is also a big difference between individuals using those technologies and utilities exploiting them on a grander scale. That's why, if it is ever going to take off in any significant way, the "green energy" movement will likely have to move from local, personal action to broad, government/utility supported actions.

The price of going green
Ross Clark
1175 words
29 April 2006
The Spectator
34 36
(c) The Spectator (1828) Limited 2006

PROPERTY - Ross Clark says that eco-friendly energy is expensive and impractical

The world's ugliest boiler is attached to the side of my house. It is a slab of grey metal from which protrudes a short exhaust pipe, just at the right height to blast the hat off anyone who happens to be walking to the front door at the wrong time. Worse, it covers the garden with a petrochemical fug, and with oil prices rising rapidly it is costing me more than £1,000 a year to keep my tank full. If anybody had an incentive to turn to 'green' energy it is me.

If I could replace my heating system with one of Dave Cameron's windmills and a few solar panels, believe me I would.

But I am not getting very far at the moment in my search for a green form of energy for my home. There has been no shortage of architectural awards doled out to 'eco-friendly' homes; there is no end to the websites that promise to help me cut my carbon emissions and exploit 'free energy' from the sun or the wind. It is just that when it comes to keeping yourself warm, none of them seems quite able to do the job. Inasmuch as they save you energy at all, it is usually at such a high installation cost that you will be lucky still to be alive when your home improvements recoup their costs. Take double glazing: the government is so convinced of the merits of having two panes of glass instead of one that it is now illegal to replace a window with single glazing. Yet according to BRE, the formerly government-owned Building Research Establishment, it could take up to 100 years for a double-glazed window to repay its cost in fuel savings. And if it is the environment you are interested in saving, forget it: the double-glazing industry is a huge consumer of uPVC, an oil-based plastic which is horribly toxic to produce and to dispose of.

For about £1,500 plus VAT, you can, like Dave Cameron, have a windmill installed on your roof, allowing you to make use of entirely free energy. But don't get too excited: unless you live a fairly monkish existence it is unlikely to meet your energy needs.

According to Windsave, a Scottish-based company which manufactures the devices, you can count on your windmill producing at least 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. But that is only enough to keep a onebar electric fire going for 20 days — equivalent to a whopping £30 worth of electricity.

At this rate it would take the windmill about 50 years to recover its costs. My own household already consumes about 4,000 kilowatthours of electricity a year — and that is just on lights, cookers, computers and so on, not on heating the house. Nor is it possible to save energy by moving to a windier area: irritatingly, Windsave's windmills have to go into auto-shutdown in strong winds in order to prevent them pulling the side off your house.

Never mind, that still leaves solar panels.

The government is so keen to encourage us to collect free energy from the sun that it is offering homeowners grants of £400 to install solar panels. However, that is not going to cover the cost of installing such a device. I have found a company called the Green Shop willing to install a solar hot-water system in my home for £2,830 plus VAT. But I am warned that I will still need a boiler as the solar panels will not produce enough energy to fill my hot-water cylinder in the winter.

And what would I save in any case? In summer I supply my house with hot water using an immersion heater timed to make use of off-peak electricity. Last summer it cost me just £20. At this rate it would take more than 100 years for my investment in solar panels to pay off — by which time I wonder whether the panels would still be working at all.

The other option is to do what the Queen and Elton John have both done: install a geothermal pump in my house. This is, in effect, a refrigerator in reverse, exploiting latent heat within the soil. Water would be pumped through pipes laid beneath my house, where the soil is at a fairly constant 10infinityC. The water would then be pumped into my house and compressed, in the process of which it would heat up and discharge warmth into my living-room.

Although fairly standard in North America, there aren't many homes with geothermal pumps in Britain. But I did find Nicholas Ray, an architect who has incorporated geothermal pumps in two new houses he is building in the yard of his offices in Cambridge. The first sight was not promising: his office windows, and several surrounding buildings, were covered with a tarpaulin spattered with muddy clay; sinking a 40-metre deep borehole is a pretty messy business. Installing a geothermal pump was easier for the Queen, apparently: she was able to install a system exploiting the heat contained within the water of the lake in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Elton John, too, had an easier time: if you have an acre or more of garden you can install the pipework for your geothermal pump at a relatively shallow depth, it being the length of pipe which matters. It is only those of us with small gardens who have to drill deep.

The mess is not the only objection to installing a geothermal pump. Although heat extracted from the ground comes free, the pump requires a considerable quantity of electricity to pump water around the circuit.

In fact, admits Ray, the system won't help the occupants of his new houses save any money compared with what they would pay to heat them with a conventional heating system fired by a condensing boiler. In other words, I would never recoup the £2,000 it would cost to drill a borehole; unless, that is, oil prices rise faster than electricity prices.

I am not wholly put off. If I can transfer a little bit of pollution from my own garden to a distant power station, there is some benefit to me. I have asked an American company to conduct a feasibility study into installing a geothermal pump. But I am unconvinced that green energy is yet at the stage at which it provides a practical option for people other than the well-off. It is certainly not about saving money. It is really about assuaging middleclass guilt and having a few toys to show off to your friends. As for helping the environment, there is a rather more straightforward way and one which is guaranteed to save money: switch your central heating off and invest in a £30 sweater from Marks & Spencer.

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Summary Business Case for CSR

-Thanks to Laurie Courage for forwarding on this great PDF summary of CSR business case supporting facts--


I just finished a book written by the president of Seventh Generation, a environmentally conscious household cleaning product company, about how big business can learn from CSR driven companies. When I went to the web site after having read this book, I found this and thought it might help in our CSR practice development efforts,

- Laurie

Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Lists Drive Improved Performance

Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Lists Drive Improved Performance

NEW YORK, May 30, 2006 - Lists are playing an increasing role in defining and driving corporate sustainability and responsibility (CSR) -- and the list of CSR-related lists is growing. For example, Business Ethics magazine recently released its eighth annual list of the "100 Best Corporate Citizens," based on rankings by KLD Research & Analytics. Canada-based Corporate Knights magazine teamed up with Innovest Strategic Value Advisors to produce the "Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World" starting last year. Even Fortune magazine assesses social responsibility in its annual "Most Admired Companies" as well as in the "100 Best Companies to Work For."

On the other side of the coin, the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts launched the "
Toxic 100" last year based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Instead of applauding best practice, as the other lists do, this list identifies the companies with the greatest environmental impact. Yet all of these lists tap into the innate human yearning to order and rank, thereby leveraging "listmania" to advance understanding and practice of corporate sustainability and responsibility.

"People love lists -- when I was a kid growing up, we used to sit around the radio waiting for the Top 40 to get announced and write them down," said Michael Connor, executive editor of Business Ethics. "A list is a wonderful device for focusing people's attention, particularly on abstract concepts and ideas -- it helps crystallize them."

"Corporate citizenship is a complicated and fairly abstract notion -- by applying metrics and ranking companies and putting names to the concept of corporate citizenship, we help create a framework for what corporate citizenship is about, not just in theory but in particulars," Connor told "Lists help people look at how a particular company (whether they're number one on the list or number 50) is doing in certain categories and how they're doing relative to their peers -- lists give fact-based experience to discuss, and so it's open for discussion as to whether the best on the list is the ideal."

Business Ethics Founding Editor Marjorie Kelly and KLD chose not to rate companies on a scale with the top score being the ideal. Rather, they chose to rank by standard deviation from the mean (compared to the universe of companies under consideration -- the Russell 1000, S&P 500, and Domini 400 Social Index.) This methodology avoids setting a ceiling for the ideal and instead rates companies relative to each other, thus not defining the ideal nor placing a cap on progress toward sustainability and responsibility.

For example, list-topper Green Mountain Coffee Roasters earned an average score of 1.775 (about one and three-quarters points above the mean) across eight stakeholder categories, including human rights, environment, corporate governance, and total return. The Global 100 list takes a different approach -- it simply lists 100 leaders and refrains from assigning any ranking to companies in recognition that sustainability issues impacting corporate performance vary widely from sector-to-sector.

Companies now take much more notice of their presence or absence -- and position -- on CSR lists than they did eight years ago, according to Connor. High-rankers trumpet their achievements, and those spurned seek ways to improve their CSR performance.

"Many of the companies work on these issues with an eye to the fact that we and others are going publicize their performance in these areas, so the lists become a way of spotlighting their performance so it doesn't happen in secret," said Connor. "They're an annual report cards of sorts -- as much as we all hate report cards, they've always played a healthy role in keeping you accountable, and that's what these lists are all about: accountability."

Just as companies seek to move "up" the laudatory lists, they are actively engaging on how to move "down" the more damning lists. For example, the
Business & Human Rights Resource Center, a U.K.-based Web site that seeks to represent critical accounts of corporate human rights practices as well as company perspectives, invited the top 10 of the Toxic 100 to respond to their ranking. GE, Fortune's Most Admired Company and a constituent of the Global 100 but not the Business Ethics or Fortune Best Companies to Work For lists, was one of seven companies to respond (ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil declined.)

"Since 1987, GE has reduced its emissions by more than 85% despite greatly expanding its production," GE responded. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the model used by PERI is properly used for screening purposes only and it is not a quantitative risk assessment model and thus not independently meaningful."

Despite GE's assertion, its aggregate toxic emissions (based on the data the company itself submits to the TRI) are very meaningful to those who assess corporate sustainability and responsibility by these lists. In the
Citizenship Report it released this week, GE crowed that its vast size positions it well to help solve global social and environmental problems -- the Toxic 100 simply exposes that its hugeness also translates into a heck of a lot of toxic emissions. To descend on this list, GE will have to reduce its emissions even further.

The fact that the lists measure different metrics and use different standards makes apples-to-apples comparisons difficult if not impossible. However, this also drives more comprehensive improvement in CSR performance, because companies need to attend to a broad spectrum of different sustainability issues and metrics.

"I don't think these lists compete with one another -- we reinforce one another," explained Connor. "As with any kind of information, readers or investors need to put all these lists in context by comparing and contrasting them to each other and drawing their own conclusions about what are the best companies from their own personal points of view."